UAS & Robotics

Air Force wants a portable system to counter small drones

WASP small UAS

The Air Force is looking to defend against drones as small as the WASP.


The Air Force in now jumping into the counter-drone game, following other service branches such as the Army as well as civilian agencies that include the Bureau of Prisons, to combat potentially dangerous, expendable aerial bombs deliver by small unmanned aerial systems. 

The Air Force is looking for  three types of systems to counter small UAS—which the service also termed “personal drones”—that include detecting, identifying and defeating, with a special emphasis on defeating the aircraft, the Air Force’s solicitation notice stated.

In addition to requiring the system to be portable—which the Air Force describes as a small handheld component less than 54 inches by 12 inches by 6 inches that can be detached by a single operator and weigh less than 40 pounds—the notice also outlines specifications on how incoming undesirable UASs should be defeated. 

“This portion needs to disrupt the control link between a commercial UAS and the pilot causing the UAS to fall into its preprogrammed ‘lost link’ protocol,” the notice states. “The system should provide the additional ability to disrupt the UAS's ability to receive and use satellite navigation signals (GPS and GLONASS) for navigation purposes. (GLONASS is an alternative GPS systems operated by Russia.)

The criteria also states that the system must allow the operator to quickly deploy a counter-UAS system without producing negative effects on friendly assets. It should be capable of disrupting communications on 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz ISM bands and stop autonomous waypoint flights.

A desirable counter-UAS system also should be relatively simple to operate, the Air Force said, and exclude software and firmware. 

The Air Force is focused on UAS in Group 1, which includes a Wasp micro-UAS that weighs under a pound and typically is hand-launched, self-contained and portable (other Wasps can weight up to about 14 pounds), and Group 2,  akin to the ScanEagle UAS that weighs just under 40 pounds and typically launched from a catapult with the potential for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads. Both types are commercial UAS that sold in the United States

These counter UAS systems can protect services members in the field and protect bases and installments from aerial threats. Northrop Grumman has previously demonstrated a counter UAS solution for the Army, which includes tracking and target acquisition of aerial objects in flight. Other commercial counter UAS solutions that are available to both civilian agencies – which are limited in terms of methods use to down incoming drones such as jamming or kinetic strikes – and military services include Lockheed Martin’s ICARUS program. ICARUS, a small, 6-inch by 10-inch by 8-inch system, can detect and counteract UAS using both non-kinetic and kinetic means depending on the partner, whether civilian or military. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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