The increased use and threat of drones and the lack of a dependable network to counter them has been identified as a “concerning tactical development” by the military as a whole but especially by the U.S. Central Command.

The Pentagon, after identifying the lack of institutionalized training in defeating the ever-increasing drone threat, is developing a joint strategy dedicated to countering small unmanned aircraft systems.

Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, Director of the Joint Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office and Director of Fires, G-3/5/7 recently said that artificial intelligence and machine learning are crucial to the new strategy. Currently, close to 90 percent of the military’s counter-drone capabilities are electronic warfare-type systems.

“We see the threat continue to proliferate in the [U.S. Central Command area of responsibility], and now we’re starting to see more use globally and even in the homeland,” Gen. Gainey said. 

“We see two sets of challenges here. We have what we view as a threat, a cheap tool for an adversary to use as a threat, to potentially modify it, weaponize it or just use it for [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance]. But we also have the challenge of the hazard piece, like in the homeland where maybe a hobbyist out there flying it may come around air space or a restricted location, and we have to be able to counter that also,” he added.

And the threat is evolving. The joint force now has to account for swarm and autonomous drones, some of which are available through off-the-shelf technology. Small, inexpensive drones can be easily purchased and used against U.S. forces in a number of ways. Some can be used, as ISIS demonstrated, to carry explosives. They can also jam communications signals or deploy to gather intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Inside the United States, there have already been examples of drones flying too close to aircraft, and over or near restricted areas.

Drones hover over the battlefield.

The joint strategy will probably consist of a simple solution for the near future with a single controller that any military member can be trained to use. The common controller will also work for multiple kinds of counter-UAS systems, including detection, electronic warfare, and “defeat” systems.

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‘The way the services want to move forward with counter-UAS is that they want a military specialty-agnostic capability that basically a soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine can pick up and intuitively operate, so everyone is a counter-UAS operator,” Gen. Gainey added.

“Every service is executing service-specific training. The average soldier, airman or Marine lacks adequate counter-UAS training. It’s not fully embedded in the [program of instruction] from basic training onward,” LTC David Morgan, who is assigned to the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, said during an industry open house. 

Earlier this year, the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO), was created. It has already selected interim systems for immediate use while it develops capabilities and strategies for future threats.

One possible scenario is to have military contractors provide counter-drone support. “It’s a componentized menu of options based on the systems we down-selected and the systems we are looking at potentially in the future. We’re also looking at counter-UAS as a service where companies could potentially come in and provide that service for an installation,” Gen. Gainey said. “Ultimately, our goal is to align existing and future counter-UAS solutions to best address the warfighter needs while applying resources more efficiently.”

According to DefenseNews.com, the JCO is going to open a C-sUAS academy at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It will initially use an already developed Program of Instruction (POI) that had been developed at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

The plan is to have the new school begin operations in FY 2024 and be fully mission capable in FY 2025.