Swarms of drones are changing the way the US military thinks and fights


Are mechanized forces and maneuvering soldier units vulnerable to large swarms of explosive mini-drones or surveillance operations suddenly appearing in the air? The US military is taking measurable and impactful action to minimize and counter the risk.

Small drone swarms can reach speeds of sixty to seventy miles an hour, and some are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Swarms of drones can be sent to cover an area of ​​intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities; built-in redundancy so that a mission can continue if one of them is destroyed; or even become explosives themselves programmed to detonate on impact.

These swarms are a unique and pressing threat capable of presenting a new range of challenges for the advancement of ground infantry or armored units. They can also threaten forward operating bases and other high value targets. New advanced autonomy applications can also allow better coordination of flight paths and missions between the drones themselves.

These are the primary reasons the Army and its industry partners are now testing, refining and improving a key number of counter-drone technologies and tactical approaches. Groups of drones, if detected effectively and “found” quickly, can be blocked, deactivated or destroyed before arrival thanks to the processing of sensors activated by artificial intelligence; kinetic effectors such as interceptor missiles and ammunition; or non-kinetic, less damaging alternatives such as high power microwaves, electronic warfare capabilities, or lasers.

Historically, armored vehicles firing guns generally tracked and attacked ground targets in a more “linear” mechanized formation, force-to-force. Today, the evolving threat has led army innovators to refine the requirements and also incorporate more possibilities for multi-domain air-to-ground attacks. These efforts seem to be paying off.

An interesting innovation being improved is the use of a so-called “proximity” fuse for ammunition fired from a cannon, such as a 30mm light machine gun, mounted on an armored vehicle. Proximity rounds work with a built-in sensor capable of detonating at close range from an approaching drone swarm. Fragmentation occurs over a scattered “area” so it can destroy a group of targets in close proximity to each other in the air. Cannons can also fire air burst shells that are pre-programmed to detonate at a specific and predetermined point in the air based on a number of measured “rotations”. While both are extremely effective, expert weapons developers in the military say proximity shells are optimal against swarms of drones.

“There are advantages and disadvantages to proximity, there are advantages and disadvantages to air blast, a lot of it depends on the target you are aiming at. To the right? So, applications specifically against an unmanned aircraft, you can use both. It’s really good for proximity because the target can be smaller and move faster than an armored vehicle or a soldier on the ground, ”said Major General Ross Coffman, director of the cross-functional vehicle team. new generation combat guns from the army. Futures Command, told National interest in an interview.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National interest. Osborn previously served in the Pentagon as a highly trained expert in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air presenter and military specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Flickr.


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