The US military and its partners are expanding their use of drones, turning to them for logistical purposes like resupply while expanding their abilities to defend against enemy drones.
The latest piece of drone-related equipment is a 5-pound radar-gun-like device used to jam drones in remote areas or during patrols.
In April, the US Army’s Rapid Equipment Force purchased 50 of the “Dronebuster,” as it’s called, which starts at $30,000.
It’s outfitted with five custom antennae and a “technique generator” that reduces the amount of battery power needed to produce a jamming signal, which in turns allows the device to be smaller and more portable.
Col. Lanier Ward, who leads the REF, told Army Times that his unit’s goal was to get the Dronebuster to personnel in the field as soon as possible. He said the REF averages 140 days from requirement to delivery.
Iraqi forces have already deployed US-supplied “jammers” to frustrate ISIS’ profligate use of commercial drones to attack Iraqi troops in and around Mosul.
“The Americans have brought in a very advanced machine to” western Mosul, Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabbouri Jabouri told Defense Tech in early March. “It is like a big vehicle. ISIS can no longer send even one drone into the sky.”
The commander of Iraq’s elite Counter Terror Service told Defense Techthat his unit had recorded 72 ISIS drone flights on the first day of operations in western Mosul, which began on February 19.
With the deployment of US-provided anti-drone technology, he said, ISIS drone flights had dropped to zero over a five-day period at the start of March.
The US Army is experimenting with other mobile anti-drone weapons to counter the growing use of cheap, commercially available drones that have popped up in conflict zones.
Earlier this month, during the 10-day Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Mobile High-Energy Laser, or MEHEL — mounted on a Stryker combat vehicle — downed a drone without firing a shot or making a sound.
The laser was one of three anti-drone systems being evaluated during the exercise.
“We are working with Space and Missile Defense Command, using their MEHEL to engage various targets, to include low-flying” unmanned aircraft systems, said Lt. Col. Jeff Erts, chief of experimentation and wargaming at the Fires Battle Lab.
According to Erts, the MEHEL system had won over many of the troops tasked with testing it.
“They love the system and they are excited about not only what they can do with it in the air, but what they can do with it on the ground as well,” he said.
US forces have also looked to unmanned aircraft for logistical support.
At the Sea Space 2017 trade show this month, the Tactical Air Delivery glider — a prototype being tested by the Marine Corps — was on display.
The final version of the drone glider will be made of readily available materials — like plywood and metal fasteners — and use a GPS system to glide to its target.
Its wings will fold, meaning they can be carted around in bunches to wherever they need to be deployed.
The glider will also be disposable, costing between $1,500 and $3,000.
The glider can “deliver food, water, batteries, fuel and other supplies at the same price and precision as existing aerial delivery systems while providing a much greater standoff capability and enhanced weather limitations,” Lt. Morgan Grossman of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory told IEEE Spectrum.
Across the Atlantic, the UK’s Ministry of Defense is also experimenting with a drone-delivery system, building on Amazon’s drone-delivery advancements.
Looking to capitalize on drone technology advances made in the commercial market, the Ministry of Defense is offering defense contractors millions in a competition to find ways to get supplies to remote personnel and hard-to-reach positions quickly and more safely.
“We’re challenging industry and academia to work with us to design ground-breaking autonomous systems that will get supplies to the front line,” Harriet Baldwin, minister for defense procurement, told The Telegraph.