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Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS)

Author:  Ed House, Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)

In the summer of 1997, I learned my first valuable lesson about how dangerous an enemy air threat can be to dismounted forces. I was the C/1-14 IN company commander, and the enemy was the OPFOR at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. We were executing another “movement to daylight” across the desert to secure key terrain for my mechanized and armor teammates who were sound asleep waiting to attack at first light.  Rough terrain and unexpected enemy contact delayed our movement, so we were still advancing toward our objective as the sun rose in the east. We were excited to finally see our objective in the distance, but our excitement immediately changed to concern when we heard the “whop, whop, whop” of a helicopter, and you guessed it- it was the enemy! As we scattered for cover and engaged the threat with our organic small arms, we were completely destroyed in minutes. 

The observer controller reported “double doughnuts,” which meant our combat power had been reduced to “zero officers and zero enlisted.” It was hard for me to comprehend that after all of our efforts and in a few short minutes, we were completely defeated. Just one helicopter took an entire infantry company out of the fight. Fortunately, this battle was just high speed laser tag, and after several hours in the hot California sun, we were “re-keyed” and allowed to continue our mission. It was a tough lesson about the dangers from above and how important an air defense capability at company level was to a light force in open terrain.   

Fast forward to 2012. After combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and many more years of infantry experience, I had “been there and done that.” I had become the TRADOC Capability Manager for the Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), and I was briefing a General Officer Steering Committee (GOSC) as part of our brigade-level Capabilities Portfolio Review (CPR).  As I briefed the most critical challenges in the IBCT, I covered the easy ones- soldiers’ loads were too heavy, IBCTs lack mobility, IBCTs lack firepower to achieve overmatch at the tactical level, etc. I was stopped by a distinguished Army leader who asked, “Hey Ed, what about the IBCT’s ability to defeat enemy UAS?” I was embarrassed. We had prepared for this briefing for months, and at least for me, it was the first time I even considered the enemy using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) against Americans. I didn’t have an answer for the general, but I included the capability gap in the brief with a comment that read something like “much work to be done.”

Over the past few years, the U.S. Army has worked diligently with industry to develop capabilities to address a requirement now commonly referred to as Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS). The Army has defined the capability by identifying three critical components in C-UAS: detect, identify and defeat. Working with several government agencies and other industry partners, Leonardo DRS (formerly DRS Technologies), has become a leader in this emerging market. 

 

Multi-Mission Hemispheric Radar (MHR); the choice for detecting “low, slow, small” UAS.

 

Partnered with RADA, DRS quickly recognized the value of the Multi-Mission Hemispheric Radar (MHR) for the “detect” portion of the C-UAS mission. This small, lightweight, radar has proven itself as very capable of detecting “low, slow, small UAS” at several different government tests, highlighted by the Maneuver and Fires Integration Exercise (MFIX) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Black Dart at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Recently at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, the MHR excelled at detecting Group 1 and Group 2 UAS at ranges in excess of five kilometers. Because of its small size and weight, MHR is a perfect candidate solution for an on-board vehicle mounted C-UAS detect capability which can be optimized to address different threats and missions. The MHR’s ability to cue multiple sensors makes the transition to the “identify” task seamless.

 

C-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability (CMIC) with SABRE at Fort Bliss, Texas.

 

Working from the radar cue, DRS developed the software to slew its stabilized, high quality scout sensor, Surveillance and Battlefield Reconnaissance Equipment (SABRE), to quickly allow an operator to positively identify aerial targets at significant ranges. With the auto-tracker engaged, the operator can zoom in and identify critical characteristics of the UAS such as size, fixed or rotary wing, any large payloads, etc. Using existing Army command and control systems, the operator can rapidly populate the common operational picture (COP), warning fellow soldiers of an existing aerial threat. With the proliferation of friendly UAS capabilities at much lower levels in a formation, the air space at brigade level has become increasingly more crowded. Being able to positively identify targets as friend or foe at significant ranges is important, and the DRS SABRE provides that capability.  SABRE has also proven itself at MFIX, Black Dart and most recently at the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) at Fort Bliss, TX. Because of its proven performance and potential operational value as a mobile C-UAS “identify” solution, SABRE was recently deployed to Europe on the C-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability (CMIC) vehicle as part of an operational experiment. Over the next several months, Soldiers will provide real-time feedback on this evolving capability.

 

RIwP after a successful 30mm live-fire exercise at Fort Benning, Georgia, demonstrating precision medium caliber lethality out to 1,500 meters.

 

Some believe the most difficult part of the C-UAS mission is the “defeat” component. The Army has subdivided the requirement into “hard kill” and “soft kill”. Hard kill capabilities employ kinetic munitions to defeat enemy UAS, and soft kill capabilities employ electronic warfare to defeat them. DRS has a role in doing both! Working with our industry partner SRC, DRS is integrating soft kill capabilities on combat platforms which will soon deploy in support of an urgent operational need. DRS is also working with its industry teammate, Moog Inc., and their Reconfigurable Integrated-weapons Platform (RIwP), to demonstrate this turret as a C-UAS kinetic defeat capability. Slewing from cues from the MHR radar, identifying targets using the Improved Bradley Acquisition Subsystem (IBAS) Block 2 sight and defeating threats with precision direct fire lethality makes this fully integrated combat system a perfect solution to close the mobile C-UAS gap. DRS and Moog are scheduled to demonstrate this capability in October 2017.

Recent open source reports from the Middle East have shown the enemy is capitalizing on the tactical value of commercial, inexpensive UAS. With very simple modifications, the enemy converts a harmless toy into a lethal weapon. Whether employed in a reconnaissance and surveillance mission, or as flying IEDs, these emerging threats put our soldiers and coalition partners in serious danger. Leonardo DRS has recognized this urgent need and in working with its industry partners, plans to close this dangerous gap and protect our servicemen and women.

Note: product and company names listed are trademarks or trade names of their respective companies.

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