aerial view of Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan
Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan

NOTE Since the original article was posted two months ago, this has become a hot topic with more and more stories coming out of the military. I am aggregating them at the bottom of this post.

“We’ve got to change the way we’re thinking….An adversary can see us just as we see them. If you can be seen, you will be attacked.”

As cheap drones and other surveillance technologies spread worldwide, said USMC Gen. Robert Neller, US forces must re-learn how to hide — both physically and electronically — from increasingly tech-savvy adversaries.

It’s about “digging a hole, preparing a defensive position, and camouflaging that, living in the field, and not going back to a FOB overnight to check your email,” Neller said. “For the last 15 years…we’ve been operating out of fixed positions, we have not moved across the ground, we have not maneuvered, we have not lived off the land, we’ve been eating in chow halls and drinking Green Bean coffee.”

Some times, the giveaway won’t be visual; it’ll be electronic and it’s not necessarily military electronics. In a recent exercise, the biggest, most glaring source of electromagnetic transmissions wasn’t from the HQ’s radios: It came from the billeting area, where young Marines were using their personal devices. “So we had to take everybody’s phone away,” Neller said. “I know that sounds silly, but it’s not.”

The enemy can take away your electronics too, Neller noted, so Marines are increasingly training to operate when their GPS mapping, digital radios, and other 21st century standbys have been jammed or hacked. The simulated Opposing Force (OPFOR) at 29 Palms now uses off-the-shelf quadcopter UAVs to spy on the US side in wargames.

“More cyber, more information ops, more electronic warfare — both attack and defend,” Neller said. “One of the things that we’re looking out right now (is) providing every infantry squad an assistant squad leader… that could fly the squad’s UAVs and help the squad leader manage the information.” But such new capabilities must be balanced against retaining more or less of the counter-IED capability built up for Iraq and against traditional combat arms.

If you had any doubts about the impact of small sUAS on the battlefield, here is the bad news you’ve been hoping not to hear. Everybody’s got them and they are using them to great effect.
Here is some unpublicized testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee by US Army General Mark Milley.

In 15 years of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, American headquarters and logistical bases have swelled. In particular, wireless networks blossomed and their transmissions would act as a neon red “look here!” to a technologically savvy enemy. So when Sen. McCain and his fellow senators asked about oversized headquarters, their focus was on the fiscal cost, but Gen. Milley had another potential cost in mind.

“If you were to deploy a brigade or a division,” Milley said, “the on-the-ground footprint of that headquarters is very large [and] you’re emanating a variety of electronic signals from radios and all these computers and everything else that we have….We’ve seen in the Ukraine they [the Russians] can acquire the electronic signal very quickly, fly unmanned aerial vehicles over there, acquire the target, and they’ll mass artillery on you — so you’ll be dead.”

The MITRE Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) Challenge is coming up August 12-19 2016. It is solely focused on solutions that can be used in crowded cities without collateral damage. From a story about that comes these comments:

Coming up with ways to deal with the small drone threat is among the trickiest problems military and security agencies face these days because the devices are so small, so easy to use, and are proliferating so rapidly.

Duane Blackburn, a science and technology policy analyst for MITRE said “If you look at what’s happening in homeland and national security and terrorism and all that, the big threat we’re really scared about is not a nation coming at us with all their nukes, it’s a lone actor doing something stupid…There’s also the problem of how to deal with small drones once you have a bead on them. You can’t just shoot down something above the Super Bowl.”

So there’s that.
UPDATE More coverage on the story in Bloomberg.
UPDATE A lengthy article in the New York Times about ISIS usage in Iraq
UPDATE The commander of U.S. Army Europe said that he wants anti-drone weapons to counter potential threats from Russia.
UPDATE “So if I see a little UAS with a radar, how do I kill that thing? Do I kill it electronically, do I make it land, do I make it break track and go home or do I kill it?” C4ISRNET
UPDATE In a sharp departure from the past U.S. practice of deploying a relatively few “exquisite” manned weapon systems, Walsh said they could use “more mass, more numbers, because unmanned systems are less expensive.” Seapower


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.