HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Pentagon’s counter-drone office will focus on neutralizing swarms of unmanned aircraft in its next demonstration planned for June 2024, according to a slideshow displayed during an Aug. 8 presentation by the office’s director.
The proliferation of drones on the battlefield is rising. For example, Ukraine is losing 10,000 per month while defending itself from Russian invaders, according to the Royal United Services Institute think tank. Flooding the battlefield with a large number of drones, especially those able to fly in a coordinated fashion, is a threat the U.S. military is still trying to address.
But that will take a layered approach, Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, who leads the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, told an audience at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium.
“To get after a large amount of UAS [unmanned aerial systems], because you won’t have enough interceptors ... you have to leverage the [electronic warfare] capability, the high-powered microwave,” as well as kinetic interceptors like 30mm guns, he explained.
The counter-drone office released a request for whitepapers from industry on Aug. 4, seeking demonstrations of “fixed/stationary or mobile/mounted Detect, Track, Identify, and/or Defeat (DTID) capabilities against [small UAS] Swarm systems.”
For the demonstration, the solicitation states, “a sUAS Swarm system is defined as a group of unmanned aircraft that demonstrates coordinated behavior to achieve a common objective.”
The office said earlier this year that it would select participants for the June 2024 demonstration in the late October or early November time frame.
The Pentagon created the counter-drone office in late 2019 and selected the Army to lead the organization. It is entirely focused on bringing counter-sUAS capability into the force. The office has now conducted four demonstrations: two in the spring and fall of 2021, another in the spring of 2022, and the most recent event this summer.
In the first demonstration, the office looked at low-collateral interceptors to counter small drones; in the second demonstration, it examined cheap, ground-launched and hand-held capabilities; and in the third, it evaluated high-power microwaves as well as the concept known as counter-UAS as a service.
To address the challenging threat of one-way attack drones prominently seen in Ukraine over the past year, the office most recently tackled how to defeat them in a June demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.
Gainey highlighted that the U.S. military has already supplied Ukraine with counter-drone capabilities. Among the systems are an electronic warfare capability — BlueHalo’s Titan — and some low-cost interceptor options.
The U.S. military has also begun to employ counter-UAS as a service. The Marine Corps has funded six sites, and U.S. Special Operations Command has “an element of this,” Gainey said. The Army will employ two sites in fiscal 2024.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.