As unmanned aircraft technology proliferates, America’s adversaries are using it to target Soldiers and critical infrastructure, necessitating robust counter-small Unmanned Aircraft System (C-sUAS) defenses for use where American forces are deployed.
The Joint C-sUAS Office (JCO), established in 2020 to tackle this threat, hosted two C-sUAS demonstrations at Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) last year with the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) to give industry the opportunity to show their latest technology.
“The counter UAS threat has evolved significantly over the past few years,” said Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, Director of the JCO. “The way to evolve C-sUAS technology to meet this threat is to constantly re-look our current capabilities. In order to support the warfighter, the demonstrations give us the opportunity to work with industry and bring out all of the latest and greatest capability to get ahead of the threat.”
The first two demonstrations were so successful that YPG was tapped again to host a third multi-week event in April.
“Every JCO event so far has shown higher levels of difficulty because every event has been different” said Hi-Sing Silen, YPG test officer. “This event has two focus areas, as opposed to one last time. It was a crawl-walk-run approach to find out what we needed to support testing.”
“We’ve expanded the time horizon from the first demonstration being a week, the second being two weeks, and this one is three weeks,” said Col. Greg Soule, Acquisition and Resources Division Chief for the JCO. “There are some pretty significant capabilities that we are looking at this time.”
During the first week of the demonstration, testers evaluated systems that utilized high powered microwaves to defeat threat systems.
“Because it is new to us, we had to make sure that the test plan was flexible enough to be able to collect frequencies, power levels, and distances,” said Silen.
In weeks two and three, the demonstration was open to any C-sUAS system that demonstrated how Contractor Owned Government Operated (COGO) capabilities could detect, track, identify, and defeat sUAS threats. This COGO concept is referred to as Counter-sUAS as a Service (CaaS). A Company’s successful demonstration of the CaaS concept could potentially result in them signing a service contract with the government.
“The DOD normally buys things and owns it for the life cycle: you have to put it to rest at the end, and in between you have to maintain it and upgrade it as necessary,” said Soule. “We could potentially pay an industry partner to perform this as a service to the DOD with the responsibility to maintain and upgrade it, and to a certain extent operate it.”
It is also possible that each of these systems has sub-components manufactured by different companies.
“That brings additional challenges to ensure we can accommodate every component that a customer brings,” said Silen.
In the demo scenarios, the testers gave the competitors geographic boundaries for a notional forward operating base (FOB) that the systems had to defend against incoming flying threats.
“The profiles are straightforward, but challenging,” said Silen. “They are designed to make sure customers are tested in a similar way so we are comparing apples to apples.”
The two primary data points that testers sought were the range of effectiveness—how close could a threat get before the counter-UAS system stopped it—and how long it took to defeat the threat system. In some cases, a threat system wasn’t completely destroyed, but was impacted to an extent that it couldn’t get close enough to pose a threat to the mock FOB.
“We could spend a whole year trying to assess every little component of the systems,” said Silen. “This is a very compressed data matrix that collects essential, key aspects of how the systems are performing.”
Truth data—the real location of a threat—was a key aspect to verifying each systems test performance. In the second and third weeks of the CaaS demonstration, the performance data was tailored to the system depending on what types of components were present—a camera or jammer, for instance.
“YPG provides a great opportunity [to test systems] because of the range structure and standardization it provides,” said Gainey. “We’re able to bring out all of the different capabilities from the Services and industry, put them on a common range, and measure the effects equally across the systems.”
YPG is among 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’ll continue to enhance what we’ve built,” said Gainey. “We’re investing in the YPG ranges to be able to provide the data collection we need from the different capabilities we’re testing, whether it is high powered microwave, directed energy, or electronic warfare effects. This range is able to accommodate all of that, and we want to continue to improve upon it so we can get after the future threat.”