More UAV and C-UAV systems for the USMC 27/05/2024 | Fabio Di Felice

During the most important USMC exhibition of the year, the Modern Day Marine Conference in Washington, the Corps’ leadership passed a clear message to a mixed audience of military and industry in regard to what is their wish list: “more capable drones, and ways to kill them.”

Gregg Skinner, Program Manager for Navy and Marine Corps small tactical Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS), set a very high-level expectation wanting UAV “Group 5 capability, in a Group 2 [drone], at a Group 1 price”. The Pentagon classifies these air platforms in a series of “groups” from 1 to 5 — with 1 being the smallest and typically most inexpensive, such as the RQ-11 RAVEN, and 5 being the largest like the MQ-9 REAPER. USMC needs manufacturers to invest their internal resources to develop uncrewed systems at a lower cost and smaller size, but that have the same capability as some of the larger systems currently on the market. Skinner and his staff have shown their full availability to inform the industry of where to invest their precious research and development (R&D) resources.

During an interview with American specialized media, he used as an example the ViDAR, a wide area motion imagery (WAMI) sensor, produced by the Australian Sentient Vision Systems company, which can now be mounted on Group 2 drones instead of Group 5. Moreover, the USN/USMC Program Manager also stressed to his audience on other 2 important steps to achieve the goals of the Corps: secure communications to dialogue with these systems, and the miniaturization and efficiency of batteries to contain weights and reduce logistics.

On the other side of the conference hall, other USMC representatives emphasized a different but related requirement on how to fight the rising threat drones pose. One of those, Lt. Col. Robert Barclay, emphasized that despite the current Electronic Warfare (EW) successes on UAV, in Ukraine as in the Middle East, the efficacy of EW may decrease as time goes on, becoming minimal in the future. This warning is forcing USMC to explore other new capabilities to integrate into the C-UAV architecture. A classic example is the GPS disruption by jamming and spoofing, now overcome by drones able to leverage new techniques like terrain mapping to strike their targets, as well as quickly studying different attack methods by the heavy use of AI. A situation that requires a layered defense as force protection, ranging from missiles and cannons to EW and directed energy. Lt. Col. Barclay also raised other issues that the C-UAV systems bring on the modern battlefield which should also require particular attention. He specifically named the potential danger of having a jammer affecting friendly systems, including ones for emergency response, as well as engaging them. He then pointed to the possibility of incorporating something like an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder, to ensure a friendly kinetic action “doesn’t blast them out of the sky.”

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