YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.-- Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are the latest wonder of the aviation world.
The United States military has used them for decades, and increasingly unmanned systems perform dangerous reconnaissance and attack missions that save Soldiers’ lives.
As the technology proliferates, however, America’s adversaries could potentially use UAS to target Soldiers, necessitating robust counter-UAS defense for use anywhere American forces may be deployed. U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) has years of experience testing counter-UAS equipment, and for over a year has also been home to a counter-UAS school that teaches students from all branches of the military, as well as civilian law enforcement agencies.
“We’ve trained individuals from all branches, and agencies like the FBI and Secret Service,” said Kevin Lovett, liaison officer for the Joint C-UAS Academy. “The Secret Service uses some of our equipment to protect the President.”
Though the academy was stood up a mere weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in earnest, it continued operating throughout the pandemic
with reduced class sizes and COVID-19 mitigation strategies like distancing desks and separating them and placing clear plastic shields beside them.
“We have students from various backgrounds, everything from infantry to electronic warfare to air defense,” said Lovett. “They learn in a very short period of time how to utilize these systems.”
The nine-day course isn’t just classroom work—students put what they learn into practice against a variety of unmanned aircraft.
“It gives Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines enough time to get familiarity and proficiency with these systems,” said Lovett. “The systems themselves are pretty user-friendly.”
The course’s students learn to fly and identify drones, and engage in realistic scenarios against a variety of them. All of the anti-drone scenarios here use electronic, not kinetic means: the students don’t shoot them down, they use electronic drone busters to scramble their navigation and send them flying back toward whoever is controlling them.
“We primarily have systems used by the U.S. Army,” said Lovett. “The Army oftentimes runs a lot of the installations downrange, or at least there is a heavy Army presence. This gives individuals from other branches operator-level experience on other systems used by the Army that they may encounter downrange in hostile environments.”
YPG’s clear, stable air and extremely dry climate combined with an ability to control a large swath of the radio frequency (RF) spectrum makes it a desired location for this training. YPG’s vast institutional UAS and counter-UAS testing knowledge is an added bonus.
“Yuma Proving Ground is an ideal place to do this,” said Lovett. “There is a lot of counter-UAS testing done at YPG, and we interface with those folks. The fact that they’re here provides us a little more situational awareness as to the testing and validation of these systems.”