Counter-Terror Chief: Expect Terrorist Drone Swarms ‘Soon’

In this Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 photo, an Iraqi officer inspects drones belonging to Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq.

AP / KHALID MOHAMMED

AA Font size + Print

In this Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 photo, an Iraqi officer inspects drones belonging to Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq.

An upcoming competition will spotlight systems for downing enemy UAVs attacking solo or in groups.

Militaries could face a new threat: swarms of cheap enemy drones, according to one of the nation’s counter-terrorism officials.

“It is conceivable that some day soon we will see someone’s otherwise capable military security force penetrated, defeated or even overrun by such technologies,” Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata, director of Strategic and Operational Planning at the National Counterterrorism Center, said at the recent Special Operations Forces / Low Intensity Conflict summit.

Nagata has had his share of run-ins with terrorists and extremists. He led President Obama’s ill-fated program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.

“What could you do with a swarm of weaponized unmanned aerial systems?” asked Nagata. “We need to remember that aerial vehicles are not the only rapidly growing capability when it comes to robotics. Ask yourself what could a robot the size of a penny that can cut through computer cables do to a command control room?”

ISIS has deployed a variety of weaponized consumer drones in recent months, from off-the-shelf DJI Phantoms modified to carry grenades to larger surveillance drones reminiscent of the Russian Eleron-3SV.

In October, a booby-trapped ISIS drone killed the Peshmerga fighters who shot it down.

Such drones are having profound psychological effects on the people of Mosul.

“I’d just gone to the market for some shopping,” one wounded Mosul resident told BBC reporter Wyre Davies. “The next thing I was lying on the ground and looking up. People started pointing up to the sky from where the bomb had come … Where’s the security when these machines are hovering over people and killing us?”

Nagata noted the growing use of commercial drones by U.S. adversaries.

“I believe that is only a harbinger of what is coming as this technology grows in both capability, availability and costs continue to drop,” he said. “The question is no longer will somebody be able to do such things some day? Or how do we stop this from happening in the future? I would argue this is something we need to be asking ourselves right now.”

Hard-Kill Challenge

The Pentagon has been accelerating its efforts to get drone-defeating technology to the front lines.

On Monday, the Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization, or JIDO, commenced its latest “Hard Kill’ challenge, which is a bit like American Idol for drone killing. Ten teams of Defense Department contractors and foreign entities will demonstrate their gear to officials from JIDO U.S. Central Command; the Program Directorate Counter-Rocket Artillery Mortar Missiles, or PD C-RAM; and other U.S. agencies and coalition partners, a JIDO representative said.

The challenge’s three phases are based on killing drones up to 250 meters away. As the competition advances through the rounds, the drones will come faster and at greater volume from multiple directions.

“Our commanders are very interested in being able to counter, for themselves and partner forces, these commercial UASs that are showing up on the battlefield,” James Smith, the deputy director of acquisition for U.S. Special Operations Command, told a group at the Global SOF Symposium in Tampa last week. “We are working those very rapidly…A lot of those systems tend to be fixed-site” — not fully mobile — “a setup-and-teardown type of thing. We are looking, for our operations, very agile operations, can we get those systems more agile. More mobile.”

But for all the increased attention, consumer drone tech continues to outpace the ability of allied militaries to procure counter-UAV equipment. Consider the roughly 18-gram Black Hornet mini-drone series from Norwegian-based Prox Dynamics, the smallest tactical drone ever deployed for image capture. Arne Skjaerpe, Prox Dynamics USAs’ general manager, could not predict how much smaller they would become, but did believe they would be much more capable by 2020. “The only thing I know is that in three years, there will be a new one.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata’s job title.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download
  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Top 5 Findings: Security of Internet of Things To Be Mission-Critical

    As federal agencies increasingly leverage these capabilities, government security stakeholders now must manage and secure a growing number of devices, including those being used remotely at the “edge” of networks in a variety of locations. With such security concerns in mind, Government Business Council undertook an indepth research study of federal government leaders in January 2017. Here are five of the key takeaways below which, taken together, paint a portrait of a government that is increasingly cognizant and concerned for the future security of IoT.

    Download
  • Coordinating Incident Response on Posts, Camps and Stations

    Effective incident response on posts, camps, and stations is an increasingly complex challenge. An effective response calls for seamless conversations between multiple stakeholders on the base and beyond its borders with civilian law enforcement and emergency services personnel. This whitepaper discusses what a modern dispatch solution looks like -- one that brings together diverse channels and media, simplifies the dispatch environment and addresses technical integration challenges to ensure next generation safety and response on Department of Defense posts, camps and stations.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.