WASHINGTON — There is no magic, silver bullet when it comes to solving the ever-growing unmanned aircraft systems threat, the Army has acknowledged, and therefore its newly released strategy to counter enemy drones looks to address the problem jointly, at every angle, using a variety of solutions.
The Army has some physical solutions coming soon down the pipeline, like its Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2 system the service has prioritized to detect and counter UAS and cruise missiles. Several other solutions and upgrades to current systems have been tested in a variety of exercises from Black Dart to the Network Integration Evaluation to the service's recently concluded Army Warfighting Assessment.
But the unclassified version of the strategy the Army's Training and Doctrine Command released Tuesday doesn't just list equipment it wants to develop, but attempts to outline how it will "provide forces at all echelons with solutions across the doctrine, organization, training, material, leadership, personnel, facility-policy (DOTMLPF-P) framework that will enable defeat of UAS threats."
The plan "seeks combined arms solutions, utilizing capabilities from every warfighting function, in a coordinated, synchronized way. It seeks cross-domain solutions, recognizing that the C-UAS mission set exists in every domain, not just in the air," the strategy states. "It seeks a whole-of-government approach, recognizing that a comprehensive C-UAS capability will involve [joint, inter-organizational, and multinational (JIM)] partners from all areas of government, working together towards a common goal."
Ideally, the threat can be addressed "left-of-launch" -- or before a UAS even takes off -- by using an approach that brings in a variety of key warfighting functions.
While it's obvious that air defense would play a central role, the Army's strategy involves addressing capability among fires forces that can detect, track, identify and engage threat targets as well. Then there's protection and intelligence units that can bring capability to cover, conceal and deceive enemy forces, the strategy notes.
Electronic warfare and cyber-electromagnetic activity cells can use electronic attack and protection capabilities as part of the means to defeat UAS. Maneuver units can share surveillance and identification information in the field and Mission Command can bring together a thorough, common operating picture of any UAS threats.
"The goal of this solution seeks an end state where a rapid and seamless integration of capabilities aggressively address the entire spectrum of the UAS threat, from the national strategic level down to the individual soldier," the strategy states, using both passive (automatic) and active measures.
With that, the Army will look at solutions that counter UAS on land, by air, at sea and in space and seek to take-out enemy drones using both kinetic and non-kinetic means.
And looking beyond what the US military can do, the Army notes that multinational partners have "aggressive" C-UAS plans of their own and the US and foreign partners should combine efforts where possible and "avoid redundancies and conflicts."
According to the strategy, the Army will focus its efforts in four different areas: Mission command, detection, identification and defeat.
A common tactical air picture and an early warning system is also needed. In the near-term -- or by 2020 -- the Army’s plan is for commanders to use existing Army and joint data networks to bring information to the lowest Army units. In the long-term -- in the next five to 25 years -- the Army will develop a "comprehensive, tailorable Common Operating Picture (COP) distributed automatically to all soldiers who require it," the strategy states.
For detection, the Army requires more advanced capabilities. Radars need to be multi-mission sensors that detect and identify UAS. Electro-optic and infrared sensors should be refined to help either a human or an automated system to identify UAS. Acoustic sensors can work alone or with other sensors to enhance capability and promote a low false-alarm rate.
The Army notes that it will still likely have to rely on a visual or auditory confirmation of the presence of a UAS. "Individual soldiers must be trained to recognize the sound of a UAS, trained on visual scanning techniques and be prepared to communicate critical target information (distance, direction, and type) to higher echelons," the strategy says.
Properly identifying a UAS as a threat will come through electronic, procedural and visual confirmation.
Electronic identification is considered the fastest means to identify a UAS, according the strategy, and the plan is to improve friendly force identification tools. Sensors are emerging with this capability that considers certain signatures — such as IR or electronic — that help determine whether a UAS belongs to an enemy or a friend. The strategy calls to integrate these emerging capabilities.
Procedural methods will be put in place to identify a UAS including its behavior flying in an established airspace, the point of origin and other characteristics, according to the strategy. Having airspace control is a "major enabler."
And also key to identification is a visual confirmation, the strategy states. "While the number of UAS types is enormous and varied," the strategy acknowledges, "they take on only a few primary physical forms." Therefore, training soldiers to identify UAS based on primary characteristics will help determine the nature of the UAS.
The strategy lays out a varied plan for defeating UAS that is not unlike missile defense. Options to defeat can either happen left-of-launch, which is the ideal; at standoff distances; and as a last ditch effort, in close contact.
The capabilities to defeat UAS, the strategy notes, is not exhaustive, but is "intended as a broad framework" giving commanders multiple options to defeat enemy UAS.
The left-of-launch defeat capabilities include the prevention of UAS proliferation that requires the US and allies to control technology that could flow to threat nations and non-state actors. Other capabilities include striking facilities where UAS are maintained, stored or controlled. And cyber and electronic warfare operations can be used to attack these facilities.
In standoff defeat situations, options to the commander will include ways to attack ground stations and operators or jam or spoof UAS from far away using electronic attack. These efforts should include ways to protect friendly UAS operations as well.
Integrated Air and Missile Defense systems will play a key role in countering UAS, the strategy states, both in providing a joint tactical air picture but also helping coordinate a means to defeat a detected enemy drone.
Countering an enemy’s ability to conduct reconnaissance easily using drones is another way to defeat UAS. "UAS plays a significant role in reconnaissance for both threat and friendly forces," the strategy states. It specifically cites how Russia is using UAS in Ukraine to spot forces and relay targeting information for artillery attacks on the discovered locations. Therefore, counter-reconnaissance plans need to take UAS into account, the strategy says.
When an enemy UAS comes into close contact, the strategy calls for individual soldiers and units to be well-trained on how to properly respond. Units and soldiers must conceal, camouflage, harden and deceive against enemy UAS just as they do to prevent artillery or other kinds of attacks. "Relatively simple solutions such as camouflage and smoke can have a significant impact on threat UAS operations with minimal effort required by friendly forces," the strategy states.
The use of a unit's resident direct fires system must also be an option when units are threatened by a UAS, according to the plan.
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.