The Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office is scheduled to conduct a second system demonstration in September after a successful review of three interceptors earlier this month at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.
The JCO, in collaboration with the Air Force and the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, or RCCTO, focused on low-collateral effects interceptors to counter a growing unmanned system threat, said Leland Browning, JCO deputy director.
Low-collateral effects interceptors, or LCEI, reduce ancillary damage and fragmentation to a surrounding area and allows the military to engage a small UAS threat without using traditional munitions or other effects, Browning said.
“[The Air Force] is responsible for synchronizing C-sUAS LCEI efforts across the military services to provide viable materiel solutions for procurement for the entire Department of Defense,” said Lt. Col. Eric Like, materiel leader for cyber integration and transition at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s information directorate and designated joint service lead for LCEI.
“Our ultimate goal [is] to ensure that the best capabilities can be identified and delivered to the joint warfighter,” Like said April 16 during a media roundtable.
The demonstration, which was held April 5-9, also validated the joint testing process and procedures to inform future requirements and promote innovation, Browning said. The subsequent evaluation is in the early planning stages and will not feature LCEIs, as the JCO and its partners work to improve a different capability focus area. JCO plans to conduct semi-annual demonstrations moving forward.
“Bottom line, we believe that our test procedures went well,” Browning said. “We validated our joint testing procedures, and it will inform how we do things better in the future.”
During the recent demonstration, officials rated the effectiveness of the three LCEIs against a lightweight Group 1 UAS, JCO officials said. These drones can be hard to mitigate and can carry various payloads and surveillance equipment.
Classification of UASs are divided into five category groups, JCO officials said. The first three categories represent smaller, low-cost drones, whose rapid proliferation can threaten personnel and critical assets or impact the military’s ability to conduct various operations. Groups four and five identify larger UASs typically controlled by state-actor threats.
“We developed a test plan based on lessons learned from [similar] small UAS tests,” said Col. Greg Soule, director of the acquisition and resources division at RCCTO, supporting the JCO. “We shared it with the industry partners to make sure that they were aware ahead of time and what was to be expected of them.”
Vendors then had an opportunity to fly up to 16 different scenarios, Soule added. Each test presented a range of conditions, spanning from the direction a UAS was flying to a variance in flight patterns, altitudes, airspeeds, and representative threats.
“We are currently in the process of consolidating and analyzing the data that we obtained during the demonstration,” Browning said. “We will then meet with the participating vendors to provide feedback.”
Interceptors from three companies — Aurora Flight Sciences, ELTA North America, and XTEND –- participated in the recent demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground, Soule said. In total, more than 30 companies submitted white papers during a request for information in January.
The Modular Intercept Drone Avionics Set, or MIDAS, by Aurora Flight Sciences is an artificial intelligence-enabled, multi-rotor unmanned system, Soule said. MIDAS is autonomous from takeoff and uses a radar feed to identify an oncoming threat. The device then switches to an AI-optical guidance system when closer to its target.
“[MIDAS] has a payload attached underneath the system … intended to foul up the threat system’s rotor blades and cause one or more rotors to stop working,” Soule said.
ELTA North America demonstrated a “Drone-Kill-Drone” system, or DKD. This device is 100 percent autonomous from launch to intercept through radar and onboard optical targeting systems.
“On top of the [DKD] is a net system,” Soule said. “It is intended to fly into a UAS and entangle … the threat system’s rotor blades. Both the DKD and the threat would then fall to the ground.
This is a one-way mission and not meant to be a reusable drone.”
The DKD is also modular, scalable, and capable of carrying additional effector payloads. The device can receive cues from drone detection sensors or command and control, or C2, systems.
According to XTEND, its Skylord Griffon system can be utilized by operators with no flight experience to intercept an oncoming UAS. The device leverages C2 systems to detect a threat before swapping to a user-operated, augmented-reality interface.
“The device has a [detachable] net attached to it,” Soule said. “The threat UAS along with the net then tumble to the ground. The drone can then continue its mission or return to base to reload with another net.”