The battlefield is not the only susceptible area to the effects of a nefarious Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) operator and the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) one might employ. The nation’s capital, nuclear facilities, correctional facilities, borders and sporting venues are among targets already “attacked” with this rapidly proliferating technology. Terrorists leverage UAVs to interrupt our daily routine, while criminals defeat traditional security (e.g., fences, walls and “no-fly” zones) to scout low-risk routes for illegal alien and drug transport across the border and contraband delivery to prisoners. While these are not traditional military missions, Department of Defense (DOD) specialized equipment and personnel may be tasked to support civil agencies in the defense support to civil authorities construct.
While the US military and interagency partners tout the advantages of drone warfare, other countries, terrorist organizations and criminals continue to develop and procure low-cost UAVs. Often, these small, complex systems are equipped with cameras, laser designators, radio frequency collection devices and/or weapons to provide battlefield intelligence and engage friendly forces. The size and composite materials used in UAV production make them inherently difficult to defeat with traditional force protection measures and short-range air defense (SHORAD) systems commonly employed by brigade and lower maneuver forces.
For nearly three decades, the US military has had the luxury of conducting ground and air operations in a virtually uncontested airspace environment. As such, development and fielding of dedicated SHORAD systems has declined, and passive air defense skills have atrophied across the force. Continued UAS technology development, UAS fielding acceleration and “bad actor” successes around the world clearly demonstrate that we are faced with a viable air threat. Leaders at all levels cannot be lulled into a false sense of security because of the small size of these UAVs. They are as effective – if not more effective – than traditional manned aircraft (or even stealth aircraft) in reconnaissance surveillance and target acquisition, precision attack and indirect fire support. Troops must assume they are being watched and targeted and take appropriate action to minimize mission impact.
One of the most significant uses of unmanned systems on the battlefield today is occurring in Ukraine, where both Ukrainians and Russian-backed separatists operate UAVs in relatively large numbers. They are reportedly operating more than a dozen variants including fixed- and rotary-wing configurations, each functioning at different altitudes with various sensor packages designed to complement each other’s capabilities. This proliferation of UASs in a full-spectrum environment presents many challenges throughout all of government.
US Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lamport is assigned to the Joint Deployable Analysis Team, Joint Staff, J6, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. As project lead for the Black Dart Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) Technology Demonstration, he oversaw data collection and analysis efforts leading to decision-quality recommendations in support of Combatant Command, interagency, and industry’s C-UAS requirements, capability gaps and fielding and acquisitions efforts. In 2006, Lamport joined the RQ-4 Global Hawk program, where he oversaw implementation of the RQ-4 in the EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM areas of operation as Director of Operations, 69th Reconnaissance Group, Detachment 2.
Anthony Scotto retired from the Army in June of 2014 after 30 years’ service during which he served in both the active and reserve components. In his civilian career, he is a senior analyst and serves as the lead contractor for the Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems project for the Joint Deployable Analysis Team at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Key Army assignments included the Patriot Advanced Capability Project Officer for the Directorate of Combat Developments; Chief of Air Defense, Chief of Intelligence and the Deputy Commander for the 2nd Battlefield Coordination Detachment; and the Army’s Time Sensitive Targeting Officer for the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Airbase, Doha, Qatar.