Special report – Counter-UAS spending now one of the fastest growing US Department of Defense budget items

Spending by the US Department of Defense (DoD) on counter-UAS technologies is now one of the fastest growing items in the US defence budget.

Over the past 18 months around USD200 million has been committed to these systems – for a range of applications including urgent operational requirements on the battlefields of the Middle East to protecting defence department bases in the USA.

While most of the units now in service in Syria and Iraq are relatively simple detect-and -disrupt hand-held units – such as the Radio Hill Technologies Dronebuster system (see table one) – all US service arms are now investing in and trialling more complex area defence systems. At the same time the DoD, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are now working together, alongside NASA, in the FAA’s UAS Executive Committee to develop a counter-UAS concept of operations for airports and critical infrastructures that will also have important security and military applications. In April 2017, 133 military sites became “drone prohibition zones” – the first in a nationwide roll-out of protection zones which will eventually include up to 700 military secure areas, all of them requiring area defence networks.

As part of this initiative in August 2017 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded contracts to three industry teams to develop methods to counter small UAVs (sUAS) as part of the agency’s Mobile Force Protection (MFP) programme. Teams led by Dynetics, Saab‘s Defense and Security business unit and SRC are understood to be developing counter- sUAS approaches under the first phase of the three-phase programme. According to the original request for information:

“The MFP program must develop and integrate affordable technologies into a prototype system that has the capability to complete an engagement sequence within a compressed timeline while mitigating collateral damage. DARPA seeks a flexible framework to leverage existing systems and matured technologies as well as integrate new technologies,” DARPA stated. “To remain relevant, an MFP system will need to be able to evolve rapidly and flexibly integrate new approaches and technologies. DARPA’s goal is to transition the prototype system to a broad number of potential Government and civilian users. System affordability and adaptability to host platforms (ground and maritime) will be major system design drivers and allow for the deployment of an effective deterrent and defensive capability….”

The DoD is now engaged in analysing competing systems for its military base protection programme.

In May 2017 the Department of the Air Force, Europe, issued a request for information (RFI) (Solicitation Number: FA5702-17-Q-2001) as part of a market research effort to identify companies able to provide “Drone Detection and Defeat Systemto provide coverage around the entire perimeter of a base with a two mile stand-off distance.

According to the RFI: “Coverage needs to include the monitoring of air space via radar and RF monitoring with the ability to distinguish between sUAS and birds. The system needs to have a consolidated monitoring centre as well as the ability to track real time locations of all sUAS in the monitored air space. The system needs to be able to be in place on an active runway with NO interference to operations within the range of the system. All equipment will be mounted on existing structures and cannot be free standing. The monitoring systems will NOT record or decode any portion of the messaging (e.g., dialling, routing, addressing, or signalling information; i.e., non-content information) of Radio Frequency (RF) communications, DO NOT intercept or access the content of any electronic communication, DO NOT conduct any form of RF jamming or spoofing, DO NOT interference with electronic or radio communications, and DO NOT interfere with a sUAS in flight.”

This follows a March 2017 RFI from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) for developers of C-UAS technologies to participate in technology assessments as part of the Technical Assessment of Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems Technologies in Cities (TACTIC) programme. Data collected during TACTIC, as well as other separate tests and exercises conducted by DHS S&T, will be used for the development and validation of modelling and simulation, to develop a predictive capability for system performance in various terrains and for cost/benefit analysis.

Department of Defense counter-UAS equipment purchases – 2016/2017

  • An undisclosed number of anti-UAV Defence Systems (AUDS) developed in a collaborative effort by Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics, and Enterprise Control Systems (ECS).
  • A contract from the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force for a “large lot” of Radio Hill hand-held Dronebuster drone detection and jamming systems for use in the battle against ISIL.
  • A purchase of more than 200 Batelle DroneDefender units by the Department of Defense, the Department of the Homeland Security and international partners.
  • A contract from the US Army to Leonardo DRS and partner Moog for as much as USD16 million to develop a C-UAS capability to protect soldiers from enemy drones. The system will include Moog’s Reconfigurable Integrated-weapons Platform (RIwP) turret, Leonardo DRS’ mast-mounted Surveillanceand Battlefield Reconnaissance Equipment—or SABRE—and a host of other government-provided technologies.
  • A USD65 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to Syracuse Research Corp (SRS) for the development, production, integration, delivery, deployment, and sustainment of up to 15 sets of a low, slow small unmanned aerial system integrated defeat system.
  • A USD15.5 million contract to ELTA North America Inc. for the procurement, delivery, and training of 21 Man Portable Aerial Defense System kits.
  • A contract in April 2017 between the US Marine Corps and Sensofusion to develop the AIRFENCE defensive perimeter CUAS against enemy drones using radio frequencies.
  • An order in August 2017 for dozens of RADA Electronic Industries Ltd Multi-Mission Hemispheric Radars (MHR) from the US Department of Defense in a deal worth over USD8 million, followed by a further order for USD1 million later in the month for support services
  • A USD1.5 million order by the DoD’s Navy Special Warfare Command with SkySafe to test a field-deployed mobile counter-drone system aimed at detecting, identifying, tracking and intercepting commercial drones outfitted to attack US forces.

The Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act gave the DoD the authority to track, disrupt, seize and destroy drones in security-sensitive areas in the USA.  Guidance was sent on 4 August 2017 to the services and to installations about the use of sUAS over and around military installations in the USA, specifying how DoD will interact with local communities about UAS restrictions on and near military installations.

“We support civilian law enforcement investigations in the prosecution of unauthorized UAS operations over military installations,” Pentagon spokesman US Navy Captain Jeff Davis said, “and though we do not discuss specific force-protection measures, we of course retain the right of self-defence. And when it comes to UAS or drones operating over military installations, this new guidance does afford us the ability to take action to stop those threats.”

Under section 2206 of the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act Congress set aside USD6 million for the FAA, in consultation with the DoD, DHS and other agencies, to trial drone-detection systems in and around airports. The FAA has trialled C-UAS technology at Atlantic City, Dallas Fort Worth and New York/John F Kennedy airport with the FBI, the DHS and other participants and at Eglin Air Force Base as part of the DoD’s annual “Black Dart” counter-UAS exercise.

But there are several small tactical technical challenges to developing a cross-Agency C-UAS capability – and one major strategic one. The technical challenges include providing robust radar, acoustic or other detection methods of low and slow objects, especially in and around built-up areas; employing jamming countermeasures which do not interfere with neighbouring communications; using guns to bring down drones in populated or busy air traffic areas; deploying radio frequency detection systems not inhibited by line of sight or by interference in a highly dense RF environment.

The one big crucial challenge facing inter-Agency teams looking to develop common approaches to implementing C-UAS technologies is that air defence requirements of the military, even in non-battlefield environments, can be very different from the security requirements of law enforcement and aviation safety agencies. For example, the military will always want not merely to disrupt rogue sUAS activities around their bases they will want to identify operators of the systems. The military may be less content to look at solutions which address the current generation of challenges and will want to look at the next wave of challenges – such as highly autonomous, long range systems and weaponized drone swarms.

There is a plethora of experiment C-UAS programmes underway in the USA, each one of them solving certain aspects of the C-UAS challenge but – until now – none of them solving all aspects.  Especially not affordability challenge. DARPA, for example, is involved in several C-UAS research programmes, apart from the MFP. Its Aerial Dragnet programme, launched in 2016, is researching innovative technologies to provide persistent, wide-area surveillance of all UAS operating below 1,000 feet in a large city. According to the agency “While Aerial Dragnet’s focus is on protecting military troops operating in urban settings overseas, the system could ultimately find civilian application to help protect US metropolitan areas from UAS-enabled terrorist threats…Although several systems are being developed for tracking small UAS by extending surveillance methods used in open areas where large line-of-sight buffers mitigate the threat, these systems are impractical for operation in urban terrain. Aerial Dragnet seeks to leapfrog these approaches by developing systems adapted to the fundamental physics of small UAS in urban environments that could enable non-line-of-sight (NLOS) tracking and identification of a wide range of slow, low-flying threats.”

DARPA’s Multi-Azimuth Defense—Fast Intercept Round Engagement System (MAD-FIRES) programme is being developed essentially as a naval asset but with land and civil security applications in mind too. The object of the research is to develop enhanced ammunition rounds able to alter their flight path in real time to stay on target, and a capacity to continuously target, track and engage multiple fast-approaching targets simultaneously and re-engage any targets that survive initial engagement.

Meanwhile the US Army is continuing its research into developing its Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2-Intercept system by 2020, a mobile ground-based weapon system designed to defeat UAS, cruise missiles, and rockets, artillery, and mortars. In addition to the MML, the IFPC Inc 2-I System will use the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System for its command and control, a Sentinel radar, and existing interceptors – such as Stinger and Longbow Hellfire missiles – to provide 360-degree protection with the ability to engage simultaneous threats arriving from different azimuths. The Army also rolled out its Mobile High Energy Laser (MEHEL) at the 2017 Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, in April, knocking out dozens of small quadcopters and other drone threats during the exercises.

The acceleration of efforts to find C-UAS networks to protect bases in the USA and abroad comes at a time when real and potential battlefield enemies are increasing their use of sUAS. Over the past few months ISIS has escalated the threat by weaponising sUAS which were formerly used mainly for surveillance (see “The escalating threat of battlefield UAS proliferation”).

For the DoD, facing a wide range of demands for C-UAS equipment from battlefield commanders, air force base commanders wanting to prevent commercial drones from overflying their runways and taxiways, strategic planners looking for systems to defeat the next generation of UAS threats and security agencies looking for common C-UAS programmes now – the challenge will be to manage these escalating demands within a budgetary and operational framework.

The escalating threats of battlefield UAS proliferation

According to Colonel John Dorrian, Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman speaking in early 2017 of the threats to coalition forces posed by ISIS sUAS operations[1] “The threat from these commercial off-the-shelf drones that the enemy is using, this is something that we’ve seen quite a bit of, you know, more than — more than 100 times in the last 60 days. So…it’s a regular tactic for them.” According to other reports, by using commercially available quadcopters equipped with a weapon firing 40mm munition, for a short period ISIS enjoyed a tactical superiority in airspace immediately above US and Iraqi forces, nearly stalling the Iraqi offensive in Mosul.

Over the last two to three years Russia, China and Iran have been accelerating their military UAS capabilities at an unprecedented rate.

As of the spring of 2016, Russia had 30 UAV units in Syria, operating 70 individual drones, mainly Orlan-10 and Forpost surveillance systems used for reconnoitering targets for airstrikes, assessing the results of strikes, and serving as airborne spotters for the Syrian artillery and search and rescue operations. According to the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) in Russia. “When the wreckage of the Russian Su-24M2 bomber shot down by a Turkish fighter jet fell to earth in a mountainous area near the Turkish border, the surviving member of the crew was quickly located with the help of an Orlan-10 drone, making it possible to extract him from rebel-held territory,” said CAST. “The crew that piloted the drone later received medals for their crucial role in the S&R operation.”

Iran’s Sarallah 4kg drone, according to the FARS news agency (http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13931014001265), can evade attempts to shoot it down by performing agile manoeuvres  – and destroy itself in flight rather than allowing itself to be captured.

In July 2017 the South China Post reported that China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation  had started commercial production of its CH-5 Rainbow, aimed at overseas buyers looking for an MQ-9 Reaper-type-capability at a fraction of the cost. The CH-15 is reported to be have an endurance of up to 20 hours and be able to carry 16 air to ground missiles.

Report by Philip Butterworth-Hayes

[1] https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1051735/department-of-defense-press-briefing-by-col-dorrian-via-teleconference-from-bag/source/GovDelivery/




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