The U.S. Air Force component of Central Command–Air Forces Central (AFCENT)–has created Detachment 99 (DET 99) to spur innovation in the detection and countering of small drones, including those of Iran.

“One of the gaps that I worry about is the detection gap,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Alexus “Grynch” Grynkewich, the commander of 9th Air Force/AFCENT, told reporters last week at the Air & Space Force Association’s annual conference at National Harbor, Md.

The detection gap is “driven by a few things,” Grynkewich said. “It’s driven by a lack of capacity for detection, and that’s not just a lack of U.S. capacity, but a lack of regional capacity, and perhaps even more so, a lack of interoperable capacity. So there might be a radar in a particular country, but because it was sold to our partner nation by, say, the Russians or someone else, now our ability to connect to that radar into our broader defense architecture is not there. And so that gives us a capacity hit as well. So this is actually one of the areas where I’m going to challenge DET 99 to find some innovative solutions, some new sensors, some new ways of looking at the problem, where I can apply some technology to this rather than just asking for more and more radars or more and more and more AWACS. We’re trying to come up with another angle that we could take-on on that problem.”

Detachment 99 is to collaborate with the U.S. Navy’s recently-established Task Force 59 under the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain–a task force focused on maritime awareness

(Defense Daily, Sept. 1).

Grynkewich has headed AFCENT since July and previously served as CENTCOM’s director of operations from June 2020 until June this year.

AFCENT wants to employ smaller, less expensive, networked drones and high altitude sensors.

“If I only have one or two of an exclusive platform in the AOR [area of responsibility] like an RC-135 or even an MQ-9, whose numbers are decreasing, if I need to find some particular part of the enemy’s order of battle, if I can build a small platform and it doesn’t need to go very far because we know that piece of the order battle is close, then a small, shorter-range unmanned ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] platform that I can send out to go 20, 30, 100 miles and come back is really useful,” Grynkewich said last week.

Such attritable drones would help bolster “the air power that we have to cover different axes of attack,” he said. “One reason the capacity of our detection is so important is so that we can vector our assets where they need to go…Let’s say you’re worried about an Iranian UAS or particular proxy group, and you know where Iran is or where that proxy group operates, you can’t assume the threat is going to come from that direction. It might come from that direction, then swoop around and come in with a left hook from the entire opposite direction. So you’ve got to kind of have 360-degree coverage. So that’s a defensive problem we have. I’d love to cause a problem for others, offensively. If I have large numbers of medium range attritable platforms that I can send out and cause dilemmas on other people, then, right back at ya’.”