The development of inexpensive small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) technologies and the growing desire of hobbyists to have more and more capability have created a sustained sUAS industry. The Committee on Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System (CUAS) Capability for Battalion-and-Below Operations has found that these capabilities are directly enabling the ability of adversaries to threaten U.S. interests. In response to these threats, the U.S. Army and other Department of Defense (DoD) organizations have invested significantly in counter-sUAS technologies, often focusing on detecting radio frequency transmissions by sUASs and/or their operators, and jamming the radio frequency command and control links and Global Positioning System signals of individual sUASs. However, today’s consumer and customized sUASs can increasingly operate without radio frequency command and control links by using automated target recognition and tracking, obstacle avoidance, and other software-enabled capabilities. Moreover, the committee believes that current and near-term (by 2025) capabilities will enable the employment of multiple sUASs in coordinated groups, swarms, and collaborative groups. Collaborative swarms will evolve beyond 2025. These groupings, defined in the “Definitions” section below, will include tens to hundreds of sUASs.
The U.S. Army tasked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a study to address the above concerns. In particular, the committee was asked to assess the sUAS threat, particularly when massed and collaborating; assess current capabilities of battalion-and-below infantry units to counter sUASs; identify counter-sUAS technologies appropriate for near-term, mid-term, and far-term science and technology investment; consider human factors and logistics; and determine if the Department of Homeland Security could benefit from DoD efforts. The complete statement of task from the sponsor is in Box 1.
The committee recognizes that the Army and other DoD organizations are engaged in a significant number of very relevant and often highly successful materiel and non-materiel (e.g., tactics and training) efforts to address the single-sUAS threat. The committee thus did not see a need to discuss these efforts in detail in a report that is focused on science and technology efforts. This report is mostly focused on the future threat of coordinated groups, swarms, collaborative groups, and collaborative swarms because (1) the committee anticipates these threats will appear much earlier than does the Army and, (2) the sponsor, the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology), asked that the committee focus on collaborative groups, as explained in “Study Origins,” below.
In addressing this task, the committee quickly determined that the U.S. Army’s timeframes of near-term (today-2025, the Current Force), mid-term (2026-2035, the Interim Force), and far-term (2036-2050, the Future Force) are inadequate to address the sUAS threat. The U.S. Army’s force capability timeframe is too drawn out to address the rapid advancements in sUAS performance capabilities and anticipated threat uses. This is because potential adversaries are improving their sUAS capabilities on commercial and consumer developmental timelines. Thus, the committee proposes that the timeframe for sUAS and counter-sUAS activities should be more like immediate (today-2019, 1-2 years), imminent (2020-2022, 3-5 years), and emerging (2023-2025, 6-8 years). The committee used this
shorter timeframe to address the statement of task. It is important to note that the committee believes that it is practically impossible to make reliable predictions of sUAS capabilities more than 8 years into the future—so rapid are the changes.
The committee found that the statement of task was very relevant to U.S. military forces and of extremely high importance.