Maneuver Air Defense: Addressing Emerging Air Threats Today

By Ed House, Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)

Oil Infrastructure BurningOil Infrastructure Burning After Sept. 2019 Drone Attacks

February 2020 -- On 14 September 2019, the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia experienced a violent attack by Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and short-range ballistic missiles against the Abqaiq oil production facility and the Al Khurais oil fields, disrupting oil production by five million barrels per day. This low-tech and relatively inexpensive assault had strategic effects across the world’s global oil market. This attack is just the latest of countless examples of nation states and terrorists using drones for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and kinetic offensive operations. Back in 2015, Russian forces effectively used drones to locate and target Ukrainian troops with massive artillery barrages. Recognizing this new, and very dangerous, threat, the United States began an accelerate effort to develop, test and field Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) capabilities. As experienced with the emerging, and ever-changing, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can expect the drone threat to continue to grow as UAS technology improves. Our enemies will employ these relatively inexpensive drones, short-range ballistic missiles, rotary wing and fixed wing aircraft against friendly deployed forces, military equipment and critical infrastructure. To meet these expected threats, the U.S. military is closing gaps with C-UAS and Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense Capabilities.

Understanding the seriousness of this new threat, the U.S. Army published a C-UAS Strategy in July 2016 to synchronize C-UAS efforts across the U.S. Army and inform the Joint Force of the U.S. Army’s efforts. It also attempted to describe the ends, ways and means to meet the emerging threats from all sizes of UAS. In January, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the formation of a new C-UAS office. The U.S. Army was also identified as the executive agent for counter-UAS for all the services, and Army Major General (MG) Sean Gainey was selected to lead the organization. MG Gainey and his team are charged with the task to improve synergy across the joint force pursuing different C-UAS capabilities. In fact, news reports highlight an ambitious goal of rapidly identifying the top three to five C-UAS capabilities that meet known requirements across the services.

C-UAS Strategy MeansC-UAS Strategy "Means"

The challenge of down-selecting to the top three to five capabilities is each service may have unique requirements, and within each service, formations may require different capabilities based on how they fight. Additionally, capabilities should be developed and fielded to protect fixed and semi-fixed sites along with mounted and dismounted formations operating in complex terrain. For example, the U.S. Air Force may need to protect large air fields and large, stationary, power-hungry C-UAS capabilities might work well; however, maneuver Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) require the capabilities that provide the mobility, firepower and protection to fight at the tactical level and protect small units at the point of the spear. To further complicate the problem, an Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) operating in its traditional dismounted role requires something much different than a Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) or an Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) which both have large, highly mobile platforms. Lastly, some operational environments result in Rule of Engagement (ROE) and collateral damage concerns which require C-UAS “soft kill” capabilities while others likely have less restrictive ROE and allow kinetic defeat “hard kill” capabilities. In most operational scenarios, the warfighter requires a layered approach of both capabilities; therefore, the down-selecting task for this new C-UAS office is not a simple one.

MoogFor more than three years, Leonardo DRS, working with U.S. Army program offices and industry partners, has developed and tested a mounted maneuver air defense capabilities. The company has been instrumental in urgently developing, testing and fielding C-UAS and M-SHORAD capabilities. Using teammate Moog’s Reconfigurable Integrated-weapons Platform (RIwP®) as the centerpiece of fully integrated solutions, Leonardo DRS has integrated RIwP® in different configurations, different masted and vehicle mounted on-board radar, electronic warfare technologies, identification friend or foe, and other supporting technologies. The company has successfully integrated these technologies on the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) and the Stryker platform. These mounted C-UAS and M-SHORAD solutions provide the mobility, firepower and protection necessary to move and maneuver within Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) at the small-unit tactical level. Because of the mobility and lethality on the vehicles, these capabilities can also be employed to protect large facilities and critical infrastructure.

Mounted C-UAS Kinetic DefeatMounted C-UAS Kinetic Defeat

Since 2018, Leonardo DRS has supported the newly renamed Integrated Fires/Rapid Capabilities Office (IF/RCO), formerly PM Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar (CRAM), in developing and testing a two-vehicle C-UAS solution that provides a fully integrates detect, identify, track and defeat capability. The mounted solution includes both kinetic defeat “hard kill” and electronic warfare “soft kill” capabilities. The company, working with several industry partners, has led the team through several engineering tests and the final Record Test in earlier this year. These very capable C-UAS vehicles will be deployed in the near future.


In September 2018, Leonardo DRS was awarded a contract to provide five (5) prototype mission equipment packages (MEP) as part of the Army’s accelerated acquisition IM-SHORAD program. Working with Air Missile Defense Fires, formerly PM Cruise Missile Defense Systems (CMDS), and industry partners, Leonardo DRS provides a fully integrated MEP to the platform integrator for the IM-SHORAD Stryker. The MEP includes the RIwP with the XM914E1 (30mm) cannon, M240 (7.62mm) coaxial machinegun, Stinger and HELLFIRE missiles to protect the vehicle and crew while also destroying large UAS, rotary wing and fixed wing threats at long range. The integrated on-board sensors is teammate RADA North America’s Multi-mission Hemispheric Radar (MHR) radar which detects and tracks multiple threats simultaneously over required ranges. The four MHR panels provide continuous 360-degree aerial surveillance for the protected unit. Additionally, Leonardo DRS integrates the government-provided Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) and Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control (FAAD C2) network. The company integrates, tests and delivers the MEP for final installation and integration by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for Stryker. The first five IM-SHORAD prototypes have been delivered and are in government live-fire testing today.

Although the systems being fielded today provide tremendous C-UAS and M-SHORAD capability against all UAS, rotary wing and fixed wing threats, the enemy’s ability to employ “swarming” drones requires continuous capability improvements. Swarming involves numerous drones operating together for a common purpose, and to defeat these threats, forces must engage more quickly and produce greater affects over larger areas. Therefore, the U.S. Army is urgently developing high energy laser and high-powered microwave energy technologies to defeat these threats. As an industry-leader in vehicle integration, Leonardo DRS is working with other potential industry partners to offer these fully integrated technologies. Additionally, the company is working to improve current sensors to provide a more robust on-the-move capability. As drone technology improves, we must be ready to counter the threat with both kinetic and non-kinetic defeat capabilities.

Drone SwarmingDrone Swarming

Drones are here to stay and are becoming more capable and dangerous to U.S. military forces. Leaders must address this growing threat as they plan for and fight multi-domain operations. Each service is urgently pursuing capabilities to close their high risk gaps. C-UAS or M-SHORAD capabilities require integrated technologies that detect, identify, track and defeat air threats. Fielded capabilities should be employed in depth to detect and track threats throughout the non-linear battlespace, and they require a mix of kinetic and non-kinetic defeat technologies. Modular capabilities provide the flexibility to commanders to employ different weapons, missiles and sensors. They also allow rapid modernization as emerging technologies become available. Capabilities should provide the mobility, survivability and lethality required to protect critical infrastructure as well as maneuvering formations at the small-unit tactical level. Leonardo DRS continues to work with industry partners and the government to rapidly provide these capabilities to the warfighter.