The Defense Department’s Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO) tested counter-small unmanned aircraft systems (C-sUAS) from Aurora Flight Sciences, ELTA North America, and XTEND during its first semi-annual demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, the JCO announced on April 14.
The tests took place from April 5 through 9 and included help from the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, according to the JCO. This first test was aimed at finding a low collateral effect interceptor and was led by the Air Force.
“The Air Force was specifically focused on what we call low collateral effects interceptor capabilities, which is anything to do with the prime solution that defeat small UAS in an environment that requires minimum collateral damage for the surrounding environment,” Leland Browning, acting deputy director of the JCO, said during an April 16 roundtable with reporters. “For example, if you were operating in an urban terrain and you wanted to minimize the amount of collateral damage from taking out one of these enemy UAS.”
The three companies that participated in the demonstration were chosen out of 35 companies who submitted white papers in response to a request for information in January, Col. Greg Soulè, director of Acquisition and Resources at JCO, said during the call.
Soulè said the test plan was based on lessons from other similar tests and was shared with industry partners prior to the test date. The companies were able to come to Yuma a week early to set up their systems and conduct flight tests.
“We did a series of formal test flights,” Soulè said. “Each one had the opportunity to fly up to 16 different scenarios, and those scenarios were a variety of conditions from the direction the threat was flying either straight at them, towards a theoretical defended area to simulate a forward operating base, a crossing pattern, different altitudes, different airspeeds, and using different threat representative models, both rotary-wing and fixed-wing of the group one UAS category.”
All the scenarios included the system defending against one UAS not multiple or a swarm scenario as these systems were not intended to address a swarm type threat environment, Soulè said.
The three systems used similar designs having the C-sUAS system consisting of a UAS targeting another enemy UAS.
Aurora submitted its Modular Intercept Drone Avionics Set, called MIDAS, which uses artificial intelligence to enable optical sensors and a customized payload on a multi-rotor UAS to defeat other UAS. It can take off autonomously and then is flown with a system using radar and then optical guidance, Soulè said.
“It has a payload that is attached underneath that can shoot a round that is intended to foul up the threat systems rotor blades, and therefore cause one or more rotors to stop working so it either wouldn’t have enough lift or it would become unbalanced and it would tumble to the ground,” Soulè said.
The ELTA North America Drone-Kill-Drone (DKD) system also is a UAS system that uses an entanglement net of cut-resistant wires that spring-release during flight to entangle the rotors of an enemy UAS. This system does not require human intervention after launch and uses radar to get close to the enemy UAS and then optical guidance and onboard processing to zero in on its target, Soulè said.
“On top of the drone is a net system that’s attached, and it’s intended to fly into the threat UAS. This net then untangles with the threat systems rotor blades, and then both the DKD system and the threat would then come into the ground,” Soulè said. “So it is a one-way mission. It’s not meant to be a reusable drone.”
XTEND submitted its SKYLORD GRIFFON system which can be used with no flight experience and interface with most detection and command and control systems. This system also uses radar to track the drone but uses human intervention for a guided approach for the final approach.
“It has a net that’s attached to it that is intended to entangle with the threat, and then the net detaches and the [UAS] threat plus [the] net will then tumble to the ground and the drone itself is able to continue the mission or return to base and be reloaded with another net,” Soulè said.
Now the JCO and the Air Force are evaluating the data collected from the tests, Lt. Col. Eric C. Like, material lead for Cyber Integration and Transition at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate, said during the call. This data will inform a plan for this capability moving forward.
“So, the Air Force, again, along with the JCO and the other services, will be looking at these systems for potential inclusion and additional integration and demonstration events later this year and next year,” Like said. “Our first step is to work with the JCO and the other services to assess the outcome of this event, and then we’ll be including the results into the development plan moving forward. That plan is targeting later this year and into next year, but the plan is still being firmed up based on higher direction.”
Overall, Browning said the tests went well.
“The bottom line is that we believe that our test procedures went well and…I think that we came up with a good process,” Browning said. “We validated our joint testing procedures and that will inform basically how we do things better in the future.”
Browning said the next event will be in September. It will not focus on low collateral interceptors but instead on another topic that has yet to be decided.
The demonstration in Yuma was also attended by Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I was particularly interested to see first-hand the testing of anti-drone technology,” Peters said in a statement. “I chair the Senate Homeland Security Committee and am concerned about threats to the homeland from relatively inexpensive drones that can do great damage. We have to figure out ways to protect American citizens at home and abroad: I believe this is one of the most significant threats we’re going to face as a country.”
Aurora is a business unit of Boeing [BA] and Elta North America is part of Israel’s IAI.