Fort Sill in Oklahoma is set to host Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircrafts University to train troops against proliferating drone threats.
The United States Army has taken a significant step in confronting the rapidly evolving threat of drones by inaugurating the Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircrafts University.
Located at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, this state-of-the-art academy is dedicated to developing and imparting the skills required to combat the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on today’s dynamic battlefield.
The urgency of this endeavor is highlighted by the ever-escalating drone usage in warfare, particularly in conflict zones such as Ukraine.
With cutting-edge systems and a commitment to rapid innovation, this institution aims to empower Soldiers with the knowledge and tools needed to counter hostile drones effectively.
Furthermore, the opening of this university represents a pivotal shift in the US military’s approach to drone warfare—emphasizing not only the operation of sophisticated UAVs but also mitigating the risks posed by enemy drones.
A Response to the Drone Onslaught
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where both sides reportedly lose thousands of drones each month, has necessitated a change in how the military approaches drone warfare.
According to some estimates, Ukraine alone has been losing around 10,000 drones monthly. Though the exact number may be debated, there is no doubt that drones have become a significant aspect of modern warfare.
Stacie Pettyjohn, Director of the Defense Program at the Center for New American Security, asserts that the scale of drone usage in contemporary conflicts is unprecedented.
Both sides in the Ukrainian war deploy drones for intelligence-gathering, reconnaissance, and even direct attacks, where drones are equipped with explosives to find and engage targets. The agility and adaptability of drones have made them a ubiquitous feature of the modern battlefield.
In response to these challenges, the US Army has created the Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircrafts University, where troops will be trained to confront this rapidly evolving threat. General James Rainey, who leads the Army Futures Command, emphasizes the need for rapid adaptation and innovation, stating:
“We don’t have five years to wait for the perfect system. We’ve got to rapidly innovate with what’s possible now and keep getting better.”
Three Main Types of Instruction
The Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircrafts University offers three main types of instruction, each tailored to the specific needs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.
The first training category is designed for troops responsible for operating counter-drone systems. This course is crucial for teaching soldiers to effectively detect, track, and neutralize hostile drones, considering the diverse range of UAVs they may encounter.
Another category focuses on combat planners, equipping them with the knowledge and expertise to identify optimal sensor placement and select suitable weaponry to counter drones effectively. This component recognizes that effectively countering drones requires careful planning and coordination.
The third facet of the university’s training program is an installation protection course. Here, troops learn how to establish and operate anti-drone systems to safeguard US military bases from potential drone threats.
Jennifer Smith, the university director, emphasizes the broader perspective required in the modern battlefield, stating:
“It’s not going to be just for our operators, our planning, our leadership. They’re going to have to learn how to plan for defense designs and take into account UAVs as well.”
The Challenge of Counter-Drone Warfare
The challenge of countering small drones is becoming a focal point for the military, drawing parallels with the intense focus given to defeating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, the threat of drones poses unique challenges, primarily driven by their rapid proliferation.
Colonel Glenn Henke, Deputy Director at the Joint Counter Small-UAS office, coordinates the anti-small drone efforts across all service branches. He points out that drones are not just a singular challenge but rather a part of a broader threat landscape.
“This is a much larger problem when it comes to scale and speed of disruption,” Henke explains.
The Pentagon categorizes drones as “UAS,” standing for unmanned aircraft systems. To counter this threat, the military employs an array of counter-drone systems, employing various approaches to neutralize drones.
Some systems utilize physical objects, such as shrapnel or other drones, to strike down drones. Others employ microwave energy or lasers to disable drones, either by frying their electronics or physically damaging them.
Additionally, some systems focus on disrupting the signals that control drones.
Each approach to countering drones has its strengths and weaknesses. High-powered microwave and laser systems, for instance, can effectively disable drones but may have high energy requirements and risk damaging other nearby electronics, including those belonging to friendly forces or civilians.
Another significant challenge is the cost associated with countering drones. Utilizing high-cost missiles to destroy relatively cheap drones can be unsustainable over the long run. The military faces the need to strike a balance between effectively countering the threat and cost-effectiveness.
An Integrated Approach to Defense
Recognizing the multifaceted nature of modern warfare, the military understands that addressing the evolving drone threat requires an integrated approach.
Small drones are only one component of the complex and diverse threats faced on the battlefield. The military must also be prepared to counter hypersonic threats, ballistic missiles, and complex heterogeneous attacks that combine various types of weaponry.
Russia’s tactics in Ukraine, where they use drones as part of sophisticated attacks, exemplify the importance of integrated defense.
A smart adversary might use a combination of weapons to overwhelm air defenses or temporarily punch holes through them. This necessitates a comprehensive strategy to confront these multifaceted attacks.
Furthermore, the emergence of drone swarms, in which dozens of tiny aircraft fly in coordinated formations, presents a growing challenge.
Even small groups of drones can overwhelm existing air defenses. As technology advances, the challenges associated with countering drone swarms are expected to intensify.
The Path Forward to Counter Future Warfare Challenges
The military’s response to the evolving threat of drones is marked by continuous learning, adaptation, and the need to change training, curriculum, and instruction as the threat landscape evolves.
To stay ahead of these challenges, the Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircrafts University at Fort Sill aims to be at the forefront of counter-drone efforts.
Colonel Glenn Henke’s office at the Pentagon recently called for proposals for systems to counter drone swarms. Manufacturers are expected to have working versions ready to demonstrate by June next year, reflecting the urgency with which the military is addressing the drone threat.
Henke recalls his experience witnessing a drone swarm for the first time in a demonstration on a practice range, describing it as “fairly unsettling.”
It serves as a reminder that, in the face of evolving technology and tactics, the military must remain agile, innovative, and prepared for the challenges of modern warfare.
The opening of the Joint Counter Small Unmanned Aircraft University underscores the gravity of the drone threat and the military’s unwavering commitment to effectively counter it.
As the battlefield evolves, so too must the military’s approach, and this institution represents a pivotal step toward confronting the complexities of modern warfare. The battle against drones, swarms, and integrated attacks is one that the US Army is determined to win through continuous learning and innovation.