Recently conflicts in the Ukraine and Syria have clearly shown the danger that small drones (UAVs) can pose to military units on the ground. To adapt to this threat the US Army has been testing a Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle that has been refitted with a laser and electronic countermeasures that can track and disable drones.
High-tech cameras and jamming devices can detect drones, track them and even disable them. If for some reason the drones still keep on coming the Stryker is equipped with a Mobile High Energy Laser (MEHEL) that lets it blast the drones out of the sky. In two test sessions the laser-equipped Stryker was able to successfully blast over 50 drones out of the sky—a number beyond what was expected. Besides shooting down drones, the army also plans to use the laser to blow through defenses and even stop incoming rockets and artillery shells.
While there are more cost effective anti-drone technologies, the Stryker’s ability to identify, track and disable a drone with a single platform could make it a useful tool to protect soldiers from the threat of drone strikes.
The Navy plans to put its new MQ-4C Triton long-range patrol drone into service sometime next year. The drone is based off the same design as the Global Hawk, but new software upgrades give it the ability for enhanced autonomous operations.
The Triton will come with a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) which will allow its operator to identify and avoid other aircraft independent of any other air traffic control data. The new software upgrade will also allow a single drone operator to control multiple drones at the same time.
The Navy has successfully tested the new software and while it does not make Triton drones completely autonomous, it’s an important step towards fully autonomous flight. Given criticisms of its drone programs the various military branches are taking a cautions approach towards introducing autonomous operational ability for their drone fleets.
Given a robust TCAS, it’s possible that the Triton drone will be allowed to operate in same airspace as civil aircraft traffic—something the Global Hawk cannot do. Whether for civil or military application, the end game for TCAS, or sense and avoid systems like it, is for drones to operate by themselves. So keep an eye out for further software upgrades for the Triton if you are interested in how the military is moving forward with this technology.
The crew from Florida Offshore steadies and lowers the BQM-167 sub-scale drone to the cradle after a recovery demonstration July 22 in the waters off Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The ship used for recovery is one of only three 120-foot boats owned by the Air Force. The Florida Offshore crew is contracted through the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron to help recover sub-scale drones after they are shot down during live-fire exercises. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
Drones have revolutionized how war is fought and as drone technology evolves further, their influence only grows. A new drone in the development for the US Air Force will shake things up even further.
In the summer of last year, the US Air Force awarded Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. a $41 million contract to develop Low-Cost Attritable Strike Unmanned Aerial System Demonstration (LCASD). Basically, they want Kratos to develop a cheap rocket-powered drone that can act as a wingman for expensive state-of-the-art fighters like the new F-35.
But Kratos is not starting from scratch, instead they are redesigning a popular target drone, the Kratos Defense’s BQM-167A. Here is what the the Air Force is expecting for the drone.
- Approximate a fighter jet’s capability to conduct high-g-force maneuvers.
- Fly 1,500 nautical miles in a combat radius.
- Launch and land without runways.
- Carry a 500-pound weapons payload — sufficient for two GBU-39 small diameter bombs, or up to four Hellfire missiles.
Kratos is planning on building these drones for a little as $2-3 million a piece, which makes them incredibly cost-effective for what they can do.
War Drones is Drone Dossier’s weekly roundup of new stories related to military drones. See the roundup below.
- The US Defense Department announced they have carried out the largest test of drone swarms on US soil. 103 Perdix drones were released by three F/A-18 fighter jets. According to the Defense Department the Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature. Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.
The Army Research Laboratory is looking into using 3D printing to create on-demand drones for combat operations. During operations, a patrol could request a UAV for a specific support mission and tell a nearby 3D drone printing facilities exactly what they need. Then 24 hours later they have their own custom built UAV for the specifications they requested.
- If you are looking to learn more about the “surreal” experience of America’s drone pilots of Creech Air Force base outside of Las Vegas, Nevada then this BBC article is a must read. Pilots at the base remotely control US combat drones overseas and talk about commuting to war. From the article: “When they walk through the gate, they’re in a war. Although physically they are at home, mentally they’re at war. So in effect we’re asking them to redeploy every single day, to go back home and be parents and be loved ones – and then come back to war again”. Such are the new frontiers of the modern battlefield.
- Textron has received a $206 million contract to perform sustainment services for the U.S. Army’s Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft system. The Shadow V2 is a multipurpose unmanned aerial vehicle that can be deployed individually or paired with manned and unmanned platforms.
Shephard Media looks back at military UAVs in 2016 and forward to their development in the coming years. The bottom line is that drones are now a well established force worldwide and will only grow. Shephard gives a look into some developments from nations, like the USA, UK, France, China and India.
Northrop Grumman celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of its Global Hawk UAV supporting US military actions in late November.
The long range Global Hawk is still one of the most advanced UAVs in operation and has contributed greatly to the advancement of drone technology. The Global Hawk has logged over 200,000 operation hours for the US military—with nearly half of those coming in the last three years—showing the growing importance of UAV operations for the American military.
According to Northrup Grumman here are some of the highlights of the Global Hawk’s service:
2001: Global Hawk first deployed, while still officially in testing.
2003: Becomes 1st UAV to be authorized to fly in national US airspace.
2007: Becomes 1st autonomous aircraft to support fighting wildfires in Southern California.
2010: Global Hawk is the first to survey damage, following devastating earthquake in Haiti.
2011: Provides critical monitoring of Japanese infrastructure, following earthquake and tsunami.
2016: Global Hawk is used to monitor tropical storms and hurricanes.