An artist's conception of a test launch of BAE Systems' APKWS rocket.

An artist's conception of a test launch of BAE Systems' APKWS rocket. BAE Systems

US Army helped pick Ukraine’s drone-killing trucks

The selection was informed by a January test run by the service’s anti-drone office.

The U.S. Army office tasked with finding novel ways to defeat small drones is playing a direct role in supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s loitering munitions, an Army official said Thursday. 

In April, defense officials announced that they would send ten mobile counter-drone laser-guided rocket systems and ten mobile anti-drone gun trucks to Ukraine. 

The origin of these trucks traces back to the Army’s Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, said Test Team Lead Michael DiGennaro in a call with journalists on Thursday. 

In January, the JCO carried out tests to identify companies whose products could detect, track, identify, and destroy drones at a slant range of two kilometers or more. 

Mounted in response to a request from the Office of the Secretary for Defense, the tests were carried out from Jan. 23 to Feb. 3. Applicants were required to be able to deliver a product within 30 to 90 days of a contract award, according to an Army fact sheet sent to journalists. 

Defense One reported earlier that SAIC and Invariant were involved in the January test at Yuma Proving Grounds, where both companies used BAE Systems APKWS laser-guided rockets to destroy drones similar in weight to the Iranian-made Shahed drones Russia has used against Ukraine. 

The competition was a test not only for the companies, but for the JCO’s own operations, DiGennaro said, noting that the office had a “very short time period,” to set up the demonstration. 

The JCO’s use of its capabilities to help Ukraine appears to be the office’s first time that the office has publicly stated that it worked on a system slated for deployment to an active combat environment. 

The Army stood up the JCO in 2020 to manage the creation of systems, doctrine, and training for defeating small drones like those used by terrorist groups and nation states alike. 

In addition to the Ukraine test, the JCO since April 2021 has arranged four competitions to identify equipment capable of destroying small drones. 

The most recent test occurred between May and June, in which the Army experimented with using microwave technology beamed from drones, as well as laser-guided missiles like those tested for Ukraine. 

Invariant, SAIC, MSI Defense, Thales, and Lockheed Martin competed, with Lockheed offering  a drone-borne high-power microwave called the Mobile Radio Frequency-Integrated UAS Suppressor, or MORFIUS.

U.S. allies are particularly interested in defeating loitering munitions, DiGennaro said, who added that reports on the most recent test will be distributed to them. 

“These demonstrations aren't just JCO demonstrations. There are really demonstrations going on with all the services, partners and allies,” DiGennaro said.