The Army

Battlespace Tech

Army revives short-range air defense to address small-drone threat

The Army has found itself in a paradoxical situation. While focusing for the last 25 years on missiles, it has neglected short-range threats, effectively deactivating Short-Range Air Defense battalions. But the threat of smaller devices such as cheap, commercially available unmanned aerial systems has forced a reevaluation.    

“We took all short-range air defense out of the architecture as we focused on missile defense,” Maj. Gen. John G. Rossi, commanding general of the Army Fires Center of Excellence, said earlier this month. “[T]hat's caught up to us.”

A recent report from a British organization called the Remote Control Project detailed the varied actors and threats posed by small UAS, which include lone wolves, terrorist groups, insurgent groups, corporations, organized crime syndicates and activists.   

The plan, according to an Army release, is to integrate more short-range air-defense systems and capabilities in brigade combat teams, the basic building blocks of the Army’s tactical formations. A typical brigade consists of between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers.

Rossi was clear, however, that he does not want to adjust force structure in the name of bolstering air defense capability in brigade combat teams. Rather, he’d like to see a merging of select branch attributes. 

He said the Army needs a “game changer” that can effectively and affordably combat the low-cost threat of commercial drones.  “We have to change the scenario or change the equation so it's more costly to attack than to defend,” he said, a comment that harkens to a similar argument made in the world of cybersecurity, signifying how technology proliferation has better enabled the capabilities of lesser adversaries to some degree.

The Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems Mobile Integrated capability, or CMIN, is one possibility the Army is examining. Tested at Fort Bliss last year, CMIN uses a Q-50 radar to find and track UAS while an AN/TPQ-50 counter-fire radar was developed to detect and calculate the trajectory of incoming artillery. CMIN uses both non-lethal and kinetic measures to thwart airborne threats.     

The Army has also taken a “cross-domain expansion” to countering small UAS by merging field artillery and air defense tools. Two examples include the hypervelocity gun, which uses a 155mm projectile in an air defense mode, and the C-RAM, or Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar system. C-RAM was modified to address the threat of small UASs. It can be outfitted with a 50mm cannon and a precision tracking radar honing in on incoming threats to compute the best trajectory correction or the munition interceptor.  

Industry has also begun examining the threat of small UASs, developing countering systems.  Recent examples include Northrop Grumman’s Venom system and Lockheed Martin’s ICARUS system, which can be outfitted for both civilian and military use.  

About the Author

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

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