By Staff Sgt. Kathleen V. PolancoMarch 6, 2018
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- U.S. Army Capt. Craig Maybee was sitting at his house one day watching videos of drones when he had an idea. The military intelligence officer wondered if drones could be linked together just like the smart lights in his home -- to operate as one element.
After many hours of research, Maybee found this type of high-tech capability is known as a drone swarm and there were many development programs for it.
"I had very little knowledge of a drone swarm, but the more research I did, the more I realized it's out there," said Maybee. "I also saw how it was being developed and the more research I did, I found it was being tested to be weaponized."
With the research in mind and being the opposing forces (OPFOR) lead at the Joint Multinational Simulation Center here, Maybee and the JMSC team began to develop and implement simulated drone swarms in the 7th Army Training Command's multinational training exercises like Dynamic Front 18.
A mass of drones can be commanded and controlled through just one drone to create a high-fidelity 360 degree picture of what the user is trying to observe. Drone swarms can send and receive any kind of intelligence information they can pick up such as number of Soldiers in an area, equipment and movement.
"We wanted to add a separate dynamic and display an emerging threat that a lot of the training audience hasn't thought about," said Maybee. "Dynamic Front is a unique opportunity to showcase an emerging capability in a simulated environment where no one is going to get hurt by it, but gets to see it."
Dynamic Front 18 is an annual U.S. Army Europe exercise focused on the interoperability of U.S. Army, joint service and allied nation artillery and fire support in a multinational environment. The exercise includes approximately 3,700 participants from 26 nations at the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Feb. 23 -- March 10, 2018.
With such a large training audience, the JMSC team took advantage of the opportunity to show the U.S. Army, allies and partner nations the emerging capability, so they can develop tactical and technical procedures now before experiencing the threat in combat.
"It's the first time the headquarters experienced it, so it will be an experience on how to counteract a drone swarm," said British Army Lt. Col. Timothy Iddon, a staff officer in the Joint Fires and Influence Branch of NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. "It's just another aspect of the enemy we have to deal with."
The drone swarm was implemented and demonstrated for the first time during Exercise Saber Junction 17 last year. The participants got to see and hear the drone swarm but didn't know why the OPFOR would use it.
"We are showing the training audience the 'why' in Dynamic Front 18 by changing the deployment of it," said Maybee. "We are launching the drone with artillery. So, the same artillery round that would drop on somebody has a drone it."
The simulated rocket-launched drone concept, another emerging threat, challenges the multinational participants in Dynamic Front 18 to develop counter measures that haven't been implemented yet.
"Even if they don't have the capabilities in this exercise to defeat them like they would want to, they're going to go back to their commands and home stations and think about it," said Maybee. "People will either want to invest in this or come up with some serious countermeasures for it."
Collective knowledge is shared during these exercises through the use of after-action reviews, which will help to generate ideas on how to counteract the drone swarm.
"We came here together as individuals, but we'll leave here as a coherent team," said Iddon. "When you look at it as a whole, you can see how everyone works together to form an effective team focused on the integration of lethal and non-lethal fires with maneuver to deliver the commander's intent."