WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army organization created to guide air- and missile-defense modernization is taking on a new mission to focus on countering drone threats, its new leader said in a recent interview.
Service officials have divided up the job of defeating enemy unmanned aircraft among a variety of organizations. For example, the Army is already leading the Pentagon’s Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, or the JCO, which is tasked to evaluate and field new technologies for combatting UAS threats in a variety of ways. The office has requirements in place to support selected systems and hosts technology rodeos twice a year to evaluate new technology for possible future integration.
Then there’s the service’s Rapid Capability and Critical Technologies Office working on solutions for countering drones to include directed energy and high-power microwave systems.
The Army’s Program Executive Office Missiles and Space is there to figure out how to bring ready capability to the force as programs of record, and now Army Futures Command’s Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team will work on requirements to support the development of new and advanced capabilities, Col. Patrick Costello, the AMD CFT lead, told Defense News in an interview last month.
Receiving this newest mission, Costello said, “is a realization that counter-UAS is a team sport and it requires coordination with the PEO, it requires coordination with the RCCTO and a close relationship with the JCO.”
Army leaders have sounded the alarm — based on observations in Ukraine, where Russian military is using drones for targeting, attack, and surveillance — that countering UAS needs to be a high priority and that the service needs a comprehensive toolkit to combat emerging drone threats.
Officials are now trying to balance the urgency of what is needed immediately with the needs of tomorrow, and that is its “biggest challenge,” Costello said.
The team’s other missions include developing the future Integrated Air and Missile Defense system including new sensors and shooters, developing the command-and-control system that ties elements together on the battlefield, and short-range air defense.
The CFT will recommend priorities for research and technology development and science and technology efforts and “kind of make sure that those are binned in the right way,” Costello said.
And the team will also synchronize efforts with the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where the AMD CFT is also situated, on what formations and training will be required. The joint training base for countering UAS is moving from Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, to Fort Sill in the coming years, Costello noted.
Working with relevant Capabilities Development and Integration Directorates like the Maneuver CDID, for example, the CFT is helping to develop what is needed for the operational force at the Brigade Combat Team level and below, Costello said, “because this is not just an air defense problem.”
The hope is to “synchronize all of these disparate efforts and make sure that we have a strategy where we’re not ending up with 152 systems on the battlefield that don’t talk to each other,” he stressed.
All of the organizations involved in coordinating counter-UAS capabilities acknowledge that there’s no silver bullet to getting after the problem, Costello noted, and what is needed for installations in the United States is going to be different from semi-fixed or fixed sites in another theater, according to Costello. “Then in the close fight, the operational force, the dismounted folks, soldiers don’t need the same capabilities that the mounted folks do,” he added.
One focus area for the CFT is technology to help aid decisions in how to counter drone threats. “Especially when it’s a non-air-defense soldier,” Costello said, “what is the best capability against a [small drone]? It’s probably not a Stinger [missile], it sure as heck isn’t a Patriot [missile]. We’ve seen that happen in places and it’s just not necessary.”
Outside of that, the CFT is looking at how best to layer capabilities such as electronic warfare, directed energy and kinetic solutions, Costello said.
Just because the AMD CFT is just now adopting counter-UAS as a focus area doesn’t mean the Army isn’t in a good position, Brig. Gen. Frank Lozano, the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space, said in the same interview.
“Even though it may be a new assignment to the CFT, it’s something that we’ve been working closely with Fort Sill on for many years,” he said. “The goodness of the cross-functional team is that it helps coalesce the team to work in a more coordinated manner to get to the outcome, the vision, the Army wants us to achieve.”
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.