The United States military has used unmanned aircraft for decades to perform dangerous reconnaissance and attack missions that save Soldiers’ lives.
As the technology proliferates, however, America’s adversaries are also using small-UAS to target Soldiers, necessitating robust counter-small unmanned aerial system (C-sUAS) defenses for use anywhere American forces need protection.
Earlier this year, U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) provided the ideal backdrop for a week-long C-sUAS demonstration that focused on the most cutting edge drone-busting technology to intercept and defeat incoming threat sUAS. This first demonstration’s primary focus was on using C-sUAS systems able to defeat small lightweight drones with minimal or no collateral damage.
That event was so successful that the Joint C-sUAS Office (JCO) and the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) returned to YPG to hold their second in a semi-annual series of C-sUAS demonstrations.
“These demonstrations are an opportunity for developers with very interesting ideas on how to defeat those threats to show the government what they can do, or their thoughts on how to address the threat,” said Hi-Sing Silen, test officer for the C-sUAS semi-annual demonstrations.
The most recent demonstration occurred in September 2021, and concentrated on different means of mitigating the small drone threat.
“This latest demo focused on ground-based aerial denial and dismounted systems versus the previous demo, which was on UAS intercepts,” Silen said. “It is two different technologies and focuses.”
Since the majority of the systems in this latest demonstration involved so-called kinetic defeats, or attempting to shoot down the target, the participation of test officers and weapons operators from YPG’s Munitions and Weapons Division was required. Across the three week demonstration, the testers evaluated five unique systems: three ground-based, and two dismounted. The systems were pitted against both rotary and fixed wing aggressor UAS in various realistic scenarios, with data collectors keeping track of how many rounds per engagement a kinetic-defeat system fired and marking any damage or take-downs sustained by the aggressor UAS.
“Just because you can defeat one type of UAS doesn’t necessarily mean you can defeat the other,” said Silen. “In each test, we have at least one of each to present to the system being evaluated.”
YPG is the most capable of a limited number of test ranges able to accommodate this type of work. The proving ground’s clear, stable air and extremely dry climate along with vast institutional UAS testing knowledge makes it an attractive location to testers, as does the ability to control a large swath of the radio frequency spectrum. YPG has more than 500 permanent radio frequencies, and several thousand temporary ones in a given month.
“We execute the demos at YPG because it is uniquely situated and has the capabilities that allow us to test small counter-UAS,” said Stanley Darbro, Deputy Director of RCCTO. “We can get the frequencies that we need to do the testing, the availability of the range is really good, and we can shoot down targets using a multitude of different technologies.”
The demonstrations are expected to continue on a semi-annual basis for the next several years, with each subsequent test focusing on different types of C-sUAS systems or aspects of the C-sUAS mission.
“In any program you do, it takes a few cycles to prove the value of it,” said Darbro. “I don’t think there is any question that there is value—we need to have a place for industry to come in and show their technology to counter the threats to our Warfighters. The mostly small companies that aren’t used to working with the Department of Defense now have an option to come in, demonstrate what they have, and give us the opportunity to provide feedback to them as to whether or not their technology is meeting the gaps we need to fill.”
Darbro feels that the Armed Forces also benefits from the demonstrations.
“As industry shows us what technological capability they have, we can use that knowledge to inform our requirements,” he said. “If we ask for operational requirements for something that industry doesn’t have, we could be wasting our time. We want to stretch the envelope, but we want to do it within the realm of the doable.”
Darbro was particularly impressed with the safe and seamless operation of both demonstrations.
“I think of it as a team effort between YPG, JCO, and RCCTO,” he said. “The support we have gotten from YPG as we have developed this has proven out to be a fantastic relationship. When we come out here, it is a smooth operation and there are no surprises as to what kind of support we need or when we need it.”