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Counter-UAS – a ‘Wicked’ Problem?

Adam Coffey
RUSI Defence Systems, 6 June 2018
Military Sciences, Technology
Finding, striking, jamming, blocking, sustaining, and generally being disruptive, are all now realistic outputs from UAS. Given these multiple potential and proven uses for UAS even by non-state actors, the military conversation has very much moved on to how to counter them.

The West, especially the United States, has developed and deployed Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) around the globe with near-impunity since the start of the 21st Century.  This impunity has resulted in a distorted approach to development; resulting in larger systems, with increased range, improved targeting equipment and greater payloads. Whilst the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have skewed many aspects of military procurement and doctrinal development, this is especially true of UAS.  As the West begins to rethink the use of such systems and examine how it will fight these systems in the future, the use of small UAS by forces in Syria and Ukraine has demonstrated their potential impact and the utility they can provide. It is clear, there is no silver bullet in the Counter-UAS (C-UAS) battle.

The mass media often presents a distorted view of UAS capabilities and roles in both the military and civilian sectors. Films, such as Eye in the Sky, or mainstream media reports on drone strikes represent a niche aspect of UAS capability which revolve around sophisticated and reasonably large remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) such as the MQ-9 Reaper.  What is less well reported on is the wide spectrum of tasks that UAS can complete and the proliferation of such machines. Daesh’s use of homemade UAS to target Russian forces in Syria demonstrates that crude, easily produced systems can have an impact on more sophisticated and advanced enemy forces. The conflict in Ukraine has also been a catalyst for development of low cost UAS capabilities. The C4ISR centre in Ukraine is an excellent example of how low cost UAS can be developed, tested in the crucible of conflict, and improved in a short time frame - avoiding the lengthy development and procurement timelines that so often hamper immerging technologies in the West.

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