AUSA: For years, Predator drones have been able to fly unopposed through most of their missions. If we can do that, you can be sure other countries are working hard to deploy drones to do to us as we have done to them.
Taking the classic dance of measure and countermeasure, strike and counterstrike, the Army and other services have been quietly working on weapons to shoot drones down or disable them.
One of the more interesting efforts is led by SRC, a not-for-profit company formerly affiliated with Syracuse University. SRC has written software tying together their AN/TPQ-50 counter-fire radar, the CREW Duke counter-IED system (an electronic warfare system, really) — both carried on Humvees — and a very small armed drone called Switchblade, built by Aerovironment. I spotted a poster they had at their AUSA booth depicting the Counter-UAS effort and was intrigued.
The system, begun three years ago, underwent testing this August at Black Dart, the military’s little known exercises for counter-drone systems held at the Navy’s Mugu Point, near China Lake. The premise behind SRC’s system is pretty simple. Growlers, F-35s and other aircraft provide the first ring of defense against drones. But if any penetrate through that first ring or if an enemy deploys smaller tactical drones as our military does, then troops need defense against that threat.
The radar picks up the threat. First, the EW suite targets it to break its control or data links and perhaps force it down that way. David Bessey, who leads the program at SRC, says the EW strikes are “most effective.” If that doesn’t work, then a Switchblade is launched to shoot it down. There’s a video demonstrating this at Black Dart, but it hasn’t been approved for public release yet.
“We were able to detect UAVs at a significant distance and basically take them off course, jam ’em, or take control,” the Army’s deputy program manager for electronic warfare, Michael Ryan, told my colleague Sydney Freedberg at last week’s Association of Old Crows EW conference. “We’re actually taking ’em out.”
One of the things that impressed me about this effort, aside from the fact that the services are doing the Black Dart exercises and apparently trying to keep ahead of the threat, is that SRC has pulled together a range of existing great equipment, written new code to tie it all together and effectively created a new system of systems at a nominal cost. I bet the folks at ATL would love to call this one a fine example of Better Buying Power 3.0.
Sydney Freedberg also contributed to this story.