WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army wants ideas from industry on how to protect against attacks from so-called kamikaze drones, a loitering weapon that is featuring heavily in the war in Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine have used thousands of loitering munitions since the start of the war. The explosive-carrying drone is known as a kamikaze weapon because of its one-way mission. One of the more well-known examples is AeroVironment’s Switchblade, which the Pentagon has supplied to Ukraine.
Col. Mike Parent, division chief for acquisition and resources in the Army’s Joint Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System Office, said the threat of loitering munitions is a high concern for his team.
“The one-way attack is something that we have been told again and again by [combatant commands] and the services that this is something that is evolving,” he said during an Oct. 12 briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington. “We must, therefore, evolve with it.”
The service is poised to issue a formal request for ideas, or white papers, from industry in the next week or two, Parent said, noting that the aim is to move quickly to respond to proposals and demonstrate the technology. The work will focus on countering threats from Group 3 drones, a class of small UAS that weigh between 55 and 1,320 pounds.
“We have an aggressive timeline,” he said. “We’re going to put that request for white papers out and we’re going to expect industry to come back very quickly.”
The Army is the U.S. Department of Defense’s executive agent for counter-UAS work and the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, created in 2019, works closely with the other military services to shape requirements.
Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, JCO director, said during the same Oct. 12 briefing that defending against one-way attacks is just one piece of the Pentagon’s layered approach to countering threats from UAS. The war in Ukraine has validated the strength of that approach, he added.
“I think what we’re learning is pretty much what we already knew . . . it takes a layered approach,” he said. “You leverage your air defense systems, you leverage your counter-UAS [electronic warfare systems] and you leverage whatever counter-UAS kinetic effectors you have to be able to get after the threat. Because the threat ranges.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.