WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders approved in late September a set of requirements to help counter small drones, laying a path for how industry can develop technology to plug into a single command-and-control system, according to the general in charge of the effort.
The defense secretary delegated the Army in November 2019 to lead the effort to take a petting zoo of counter-small unmanned aircraft systems, or C-sUAS, many of which were rooted in urgent needs from Middle East conflicts, and to consolidate capability into a select group of interim systems. Army Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, who is leading the effort through the Joint C-sUAS Office, spoke to Defense News on Oct. 2 ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
That part of his project would be followed by the development and fielding of a long-term system.
The office has already taken 40-plus systems and whittled the selection down to three systems-of-systems approaches — one from each service — for fixed and semi-fixed sites. The office also settled on the Light-Mobile Air Defense Integrated System from the Marine Corps as a mounted or mobile system; Bal Chatri, Dronebuster and Smart Shooter for dismounted, hand-held systems; and one command-and-control system.
The C2 system is called Forward Area Air Defense C2 and is sponsored by the Army, but it does include interoperable systems from the Air Force and the Marine Corps.
The threat is changing, according to Gainey, as the use of signals evolves. What this means is the long-term solution must bring in new technology and easily swap out old capabilities.
“It’s how rapidly we can integrate it, and by writing those requirements standards, it’s a big win for us because now if you’re building to that, then we allow industry to compete in this process by building component technology that can integrate into this open architecture,” Gainey said.
The Army will host a virtual industry day at the end of the month to share its requirements.
While Gainey was careful to avoid divulging classified requirements, he said the initial C-sUAS systems focused on Group 1 drones (such as Raven and Wasp) and Group 2 drones (such as ScanEagle). The program will also focus on Group 3 drones (such as Shadow), he added.
“We have a capability out there that can get after Group 3,” Gainey said, “but we know we need more focus in this area.”
Overcoming the threat of drone swarms will also receive increased attention, he added.
The plan is to test available capabilities at common ranges twice a year, he explained.
Meanwhile, industry is conducting several demonstrations a year, “so we have a good pulse of what technology they’re working on,” Gainey said. “What our efforts are doing is trying to help focus them in.”
Because the Joint C-sUAS Office was established in the middle of a budget cycle, Gainey said, the Army is working through the funding aspects; not just to keep interim systems funded, but to ensure there’s enough to develop a long-term capability.
The Army wants to get the first set of possible capabilities out to a test range in February or March, Gainey said. “We’ll see how quickly we can pull it together,” he added.
Additionally, the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, or RCCTO, is helping the Joint C-sUAS Office by leveraging directed-energy and high-power microwave pursuits into a C-sUAS solution.
Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, the RCCTO’s director, told Defense News ahead of the AUSA conference, that it would field a high-power microwave capability developed by the Air Force in February 2021 to perform operational tests on it.
“It will be the first of its type that we put in theater,” he said, adding that it would likely go into the Central Command or U.S. Africa Command areas of operation.
The high-power microwave will be fielded along with a directed-energy capability as part of the Army’s Indirect Fires Protection Capability Increment 2 in fiscal 2024, which is designed to defend fixed sites from rockets, artillery and mortars as well as drones and cruise missiles.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.