HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. military has been studying the drone threat from the Islamic State group in Iraq for some time now and the Army's training branch is no exception, taking lessons learned and applying them to major training rotations.
As the Iraqi army continues to engage in heavy fighting in Mosul against the Islamic State, the Army has been watching how the enemy has been using unmanned aerial systems. And a counter-unmanned aircraft system on an Army medium tactical vehicle has even recently been spotted in the city.
The U.S. Army's Combined Arms Center's Center for Army Lessons Learned and Training and Doctrine Command's Asymmetric Warfare Group are both in Mosul at the tactical and operational level reporting back on observations from the fight, the CAC's commander Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy said Tuesday at the Association of the U.S. Army's Global Force Symposium.
The reports coming from the fight have been "driving our counter-UAS training and technology significantly," Lundy said. "The use of small UAS in Mosul right now by Daesh and ISIS [other names for the Islamic State], they've actually gone to almost swarm-level capability in a couple of cases. That is a big area that we are learning."
While some capabilities, tactics, techniques and procedures of the Islamic State observed in the fight are seen as one-offs and unique to the specific fight, Gary Phillips, a senior intelligence advisor within TRADOC’s G-2, said UAS threat capabilities are seen as enduring and worth incorporating in training as well as technology and capability development within the U.S. military.
Brig. Gen. William Cole, the program executive officer for simulation, training and instrumentation, said at AUSA Global that his shop is introducing new enemy drone threats into Combat Training Center rotations as a direct result of what has been observed in the Middle East from Islamic State.
The organization rapidly provided an inexpensive drone — the Outlaw — normally used to simulate a target threat for Avenger air defense units and outfitted it with commercial cameras and sensors, quickly incorporating it into a National Training Center rotation, Cole said.
"What really got me excited was to see how quickly the rotational units learned to react to this type of threat," he said.
The first time the drone flew overhead, "the first unit just stood there and they kind of looked at it and, of course, they paid the price in the simulated battlefield," Cole said.
But it didn’t take long, he added, before the units started providing better camouflage and shooting back. Finally, one unit saw the drone, cued its own aviation asset, which tracked it back to its base where the unit destroyed the base and took out the drone for the rest of the rotation.
Last summer the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization went on a fact-finding mission at the request of then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter to determine how the Pentagon might be able to help the Iraqi government stabilize and secure Baghdad.
They found there were no counter-UAS capabilities that worked in Iraq. Among the threats observed then were drones being used as improvised explosive devices.