If there’s one reason why I lament not getting to be a child in today’s world, it’s the quality and coolness of the toys. And one of the single coolest things that people are playing with today is drones.
Commercially-available drones, such as the quadcopters that you see being sold in electronics stores and mall kiosks, are both extraordinarily cool and amazingly popular with both children and adults.
In fact, earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that 1 Million personal and commercial drones were registered through its drone registration system. Of those, approximately 875,000 were registered to hobbyist and the rest to commercial businesses that use them for a variety of uses – including conducting building and home inspections without having to climb ladders.
The FAA’s registration system – which has been challenged in court in the past – was implemented initially because the prevalence of drones was opening the door for some potential problems. Drones hovering over public spaces and crowds created the potential for injury or death if they crashed. And drones hovering too close to commercial aircraft created real concerns for airlines and practically everyone who had to fly with one.
But, according to a new Thought Piece by Brian Abbe and Troy Abbott of the global consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton, entitled, “Taking an Enterprise Integration Approach to Counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” these domestic problems and concerns are really nothing compared with the problems that these commercially-available drones are creating for the military, which refers to them by the name, “unmanned aircraft systems,” or UAS for short.
Drones – a danger from above for warfighters
The proliferation of commercially-available and inexpensive UAS platforms has created a new and unique challenge for the United States military. Much like the IEDs that have been utilized extensively against America’s military during its war on terrorism, the UAS is an inexpensive, highly customizable, and incredibly varied threat that can be deployed quickly and in great numbers.
What’s worse, their flexibility, material composition, and incredibly small size can make them a challenge for the military’s existing short-range air defense (SHORAD) systems to detect, track and defeat.
In other words, UAS platforms are cheap, easy to weaponize, and there is really nothing that our existing air defenses can do to neutralize them, since they simply weren’t built with these small, composite or plastic devices in mind.
Today, these UAS platforms have evolved into threats of opportunity that have been deployed against multiple targets – including Navy ships, manned aircraft, forward operating bases, and even warfighters in theater.
With no real limit to how they can be customized and utilized as a weapon, and no existing systems in place to neutralize the threat, identifying a way to defeat these UAS platforms is, understandably, a priority across much of the military.
A cross-domain threat that’s causing confusion
According to Abbe and Abbott, the authors of the Booz Allen Hamilton Thought Piece, since these UAS platforms are often deployed against so many disparate targets – which fall under different commands and military branches – the response to them has been somewhat disjointed.
Each command and organization within the military is working to formulate a system, platform, or solution to combat the UAS threat. This means that there are multiple, disparate organizations working independently – not collaboratively – to identify a solution to a problem that they all face.
And, making that process even more difficult is the fact that the threat is a moving target – constantly evolving as new innovations and technologies enter the market and as new configurations and payloads are developed for UAS platforms. Basically, our enemies find new and innovative ways to utilize UAS platforms as weapons faster than the military can formulate a response to counter them.
Facing a rapidly evolving threat, and not working collaboratively as a whole to formulate a cohesive response, has led to the formulation of some solutions – but not always optimal ones. Many of the solutions being generated across the military to counter UAS platforms are kinetic attacks designed to destroy them and shoot them down.
As Abbe and Abbott, the authors of the Thought Piece, argue, this is a somewhat ham-fisted approach that eliminates the opportunity to study, learn and gather intelligence from an adversary’s UAS. Essentially, the UAS is destroyed as a result of these approaches – which accomplishes the task of eliminating the immediate threat, but makes it impossible to exploit the UAS in the larger war effort.
Ultimately, the military’s disjointed response to adversary UAS platforms has been inefficient and ineffective. But there are ways that they can correct this and identify a solution that is comprehensive, cohesive and effective. This starts by abandoning the disjointed efforts to establish a response and – instead – taking an enterprise integration approach. This would require the creation of a single entity within the military tasked with identifying a solution.
Booz Allen Hamilton argues that the result of taking an enterprise integration approach to the UAs problem will be a response that is interoperable, easier to insert, more secure, and more effective as a whole.