WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top acquisition official believes countering small drones is a key priority for the Department of Defense in 2020, and has a plan to concentrate such programs to “three to five” key systems that can be deployed across DoD.
Speaking to reporters Dec. 10, Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said that a string of visits to the Middle East and elsewhere has led her to conclude that “we need to continue to focus heavily on counter-UAS systems and strategies.”
“We have had each of the services and a number of agencies over the last few years, focused on trying to come up with systems to combat this,” Lord said. “What we in the department have done, and what I talked to everyone downrange about, is the fact that we’re coalescing these efforts to try to be efficient and effective.”
The counterdrone market has exploded in recent years, with both major defense players and smaller commercial firms trying to take advantage of a market that by one estimate could be worth $1.8 billion in 2020 and $5.4 billion by 2028. The Pentagon has been investing heavily in various pilot programs for the technology.
While Lord’s A&S shop will continue to help guide developments across the department, she said the Army has recently been named the “executive agent” for counter-UAS capabilities, in order to make sure there is a single cohesive vision of how to develop the capabilities. And rather than have a wide range of systems out there, Lord wants to see a small handful of proven technologies.
Routine teleconferences with staffs from the various combatant commands will help clarify needs in the field, which in turn will help DoD officials “neck down” to what systems have the right “sensor modalities and actual, either kinetic or electronic warfare-type, systems to neutralize incoming threats.”
“My goal is to make sure we have three-to-five systems that are tailored to a series of different types of threats, and that we can get the economy of scale, of having a few best systems out there,” she said.
The comments came weeks after the first event run by DoD’s Trusted Capital program — which aims to match private investors with small startups in areas that the Pentagon needs an American-owned technology base.
The event occurred in Texas, with a focus on both small unmanned systems and the ability to defeat them. According to Lord, 39 manufacturers of either UAS or counter-UAS systems met with 12 Trusted Capital providers; she later clarified that those 12 are not the totality of the firms involved in the Trusted Capital program.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.