The Defense Department’s Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-sUAS) Office (JCO) has completed its second semi-annual demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground focused on ground-launched aerial denial and handheld and dismounted systems.
The demonstrations took place over a three-week period and included five vendors–Northrop Grumman [NOC], Smart Shooter, Flex Force, IXI, and Drone Shield–JCO officials told reporters in a call on Sept. 24.
The handheld systems, DroneGun mkIII from Drone Shield and DroneKiller from IXI, “did effectively engage targets that were presented,” Michael DiGennaro, test team lead for the JCO acquisition and resourcing division, said during the call.
The JCO was looking for handheld C-sUAS solutions that could be attached to a weapon or service member while conducting operations, Charles Logan, technology planning lead for the JCO, said during a May industry day presentation for the September demonstration. The handheld solutions were to weigh less than 24-pounds and cost under $37,000.
Chief Warrant Officer Judson Brant said the JCO recognizes that these systems may already exist in the field today. However, the JCO is looking for improvements to those solutions.
“We had evaluation data from the systems that are existing today and so when we looked at the two handheld systems, we could directly tie that back and really understand how that related to what’s the best we could provide to our service members,” Brant said. “Then, we can go cheaper for the same capability or greater capability within a certain price point, that would kind of help identify those opportunities for us to potentially look for that contract purchase to move on to an operational assessment. So that’s kind of our purpose to look at that capability.”
Brant said the JCO had a joint panel that had evaluated the systems come to the demonstration to make an assessment on the performance of the systems.
The JCO also tested three kinetic systems: XM1211 30mm Proximity Round from Northrop Grumman, Smash Hooper from Smart Shooter, and Agile Small Deflection Precision Stabilized Weapon System from Flex Force. The JCO was specific in its May industry day that these systems be low-cost ground-based aerial denial solutions with no in-flight terminal guidance.
“As far as the aerial denials, we actually said that…we weren’t looking for electronic warfare capabilities at this time for aerial denial,” Brant said. “We’re interested in that topic elsewhere, there’s a lot of things in that topic but we were looking purely for kinetic defeat for aerial denial.”
Brant said the goal is to create a layered defense system for air bases and forward operating bases overseas.
The JCO could not provide specific details on the scenarios these solutions were tested in but instead said they have created a common test standard to evaluate the solutions against. All systems that are selected by the JCO have to meet the Joint Requirements Oversight Council Memorandum (JROC-M), which provides strategic direction for C-sUAS capability development in the Department of Defense. The JROC-M is classified and can only be obtained by industry partners through acquisition channels.
“We try to follow a common test standard that we’ve published and have provided to everyone who demonstrated a project out there,” DiGennaro said. “So what we did was a core of expected or anticipated threat approaches that would be done against…any kind of operations they could be doing. We ran a core of standard same speed, same altitude against each of the systems, and then we did a separate excursion based on what each of those systems claimed they could do.”
The JCO could also not provide full results of the demonstrations. While DiGennaro said some systems did perform successfully, Col. Greg Soulé, director of acquisition and resources at the JCO, stressed that these solutions are still in developmental phases and require trial and error.
“Just like anytime you’re doing testing with equipment that is still in a research and development phase, there’s going to be some trial and error and optimization that needs to be done along the way,” Soulé said. “So when he says that they didn’t all perform optimally in every situation, there’s some integration challenges that are being worked through and when one company saw a challenge early in the week, they probably surmounted that obstacle by the end of the week in some cases. There were certainly some lessons learned along the way and some improvement, but we can’t really share results more than just at a general level, while we’re still analyzing the data.”
Once the data is analyzed, the companies involved will receive a performance assessment. The JCO has not yet decided on any potential contract opportunities for these systems.
Our message has always been that following the demonstration, participants will receive an assessment report detailing how their capability performed against certain criteria,” Soulé said. “Should a product perform well and fill one of our gaps, there is a potential for contract opportunity following this demo, and future assessments will be against a common test standard and ensure that the DoD has an applicable comparison of capabilities. So that is the metric that we are still holding to at this time as we come through the data analysis process, which we are just now beginning since the demo only recently concluded last Friday, and then we’ll be determining our path forward on whether any of those did perform well enough to fill a gap and potentially look at a contract opportunity following but nothing has been definitively decided yet nor communicated as such to those companies.”
This demonstration differed from the JCO’s first demonstration in April because it did not have a service lead. While Soulé said a service lead would be determined in May, the JCO then decided to conduct this demonstration without a service lead.
“Unlike back in April where we had already assigned that mission area, low collateral effects interceptors, to the Air Force–in this case, it’s ground-based aerial denial and handheld dismounted–we do not have a service already identified as a lead for those areas, nor have we determined if we need one right now,” Soulé said. “So no, by that regard, the execution of it was strictly a JCO and RCCTO [Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office] function…but that could be potentially one of our platforms if we think we need to identify that area as a service lead and assign it for further efforts.”
The JCO will continue to conduct semi-annual demonstrations for these technologies with the next demonstration happening in April 2022. The focus areas for that demonstration have not been finalized yet.