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Drones, the Air Littoral, and the Looming Irrelevance of the USAF

With one Stryker brigade in each armored division it only makes sense to give them an M109A7 bn the same as the two armored brigades. up them to L52s.

That still leaves the issue of the light divisions like airborne etc. Better mortars and light weight rocket launchers?

🍻

I wonder if there is some sort of overlap here?

Short, medium and long range "launched effects".

 

The United States, which has placed so much emphasis on totally "owning the skies" in any airspace it wants to operate in, no longer has that luxury. It's gone. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying to your face or is basing their opinion on what was, not what is, and especially not on what's about to come. Don't take my word for it, take that of America's top commanders.

The loss of this critical edge is not due to next-generation stealth fighters that cost many billions to develop and produce or advanced air defense systems that fire missiles with multi-million dollar price tags. While U.S. supremacy in these areas has been degraded too, the loss of owning the skies is a result of everything from off-the-shelf drones that are modified into weapons to long-range one-way attack 'kamikaze' drones that have 'democratized' the access to precision aerial strike capabilities, even at standoff ranges deep into highly contested territory.

In other words, total air superiority has been lost by the most 'unsexy' and accessible of capabilities.

Simply put, comparatively inexpensive 'lower-end' drones, both longer-range and short-range types, will soon be choosing their own targets en masse. The downstream impacts of this relatively simple-sounding revolution are massive and also often misunderstood. Furthermore, the technology is already here and could soon be obtained by non-state actors and nefarious individuals, not just nation-states. Any claims that state-to-state international arms treaties or traditional regulation can stop, or even significantly slow, it from happening are debatable at best.

Worth the read despite the advertisements.
 
I wonder if there is some sort of overlap here?

Short, medium and long range "launched effects".

I found that article a bit strange. It left me with the impression of a category of effect based devices that specifically launch from an aircraft. It strikes me that all the same effects can be achieved by similar systems which are ground launched. Ground launched are easier to maintain, sustain and cheaper as well.

I presume these may be systems designed for usage where ground based systems are difficult or impossible to deploy (such as the contemplated airborne) but that begs the question of how easy it is to get the airborne delivery systems, like aviation, into the theatre and how vulnerable they are etc.

For me the key issue is to design the effects weapon and ensure that, for commonality, it is both ground and air launchable capable and tied to a single forward observer/controller so as to reduce having to deal with redundant structures.

🍻
 
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Colour sorters - cameras viewing thousands of grains per second, detecting the targetable ones, directing air jets to shoot the rejects from the stream. Prices start as low 4 to 8000 dollars and go up to the 20,000 to 200,000 range.



....

Radar sensors for cars

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Complementing our XENSIV™ 77/79 GHz offering, we also deliver the market’s most integrated 60 GHz & 24 GHz radar transceiver family in the market​


between 30 GHz and 300 GHz

The term “millimeter wave” derives from the wavelength of radio signals on frequencies between 30 GHz and 300 GHz, which ranges between 1 and 10 millimeters.Sep 26, 2022


These are the MMW sensors being adapted for munitions.

They cost hundreds of dollars, not thousands, let alone hundreds of thousands.
 
I found that article a bit strange. It left me with the impression of a category of effect based devices that specifically launch from an aircraft. It strikes me that all the same effects can be achieved by similar systems which are ground launched. Ground launched are easier to maintain, sustain and cheaper as well.

I presume these may be systems designed for usage where ground based systems are difficult or impossible to deploy (such as the contemplated airborne) but that begs the question of how easy it is to get the airborne delivery systems, like aviation, into the theatre and how vulnerable they are etc.

For me the key issue is to design the effects weapon and ensure that, for commonality, it is both ground and air launchable capable and tied to a single forward observer/controller so as to reduce having to deal with redundant structures.

🍻

I agree with you.

If you can get it into the air by any means then all the advantages of an air vehicle are available to the munition itself.

I suspect that it has something to do with the army robbing its helicopter budget to pay for this evolution.

I am guessing it would be a pretty hard sell to tell the Apache community that they are out of business and will be replaced by HIMARS "launched effects".

The next battleground is likely to be Key West. Is Valkyrie a launched artillery effect or is it an Uncrewed Fixed Wing Aircraft?

1711901027554.png
 
I am guessing it would be a pretty hard sell to tell the Apache community that they are out of business and will be replaced by HIMARS "launched effects".
I must admit I was overinfluenced by the picture of a helicopter leading the article.

It made me immediately think that the only purpose for this project was to save the attack aviation fleet and give it a revival from their escort of transport helicopter roles to a more offensive role. That's a high cost solution to a minor issue.

🍻
 
I must admit I was overinfluenced by the picture of a helicopter leading the article.

It made me immediately think that the only purpose for this project was to save the attack aviation fleet and give it a revival from their escort of transport helicopter roles to a more offensive role. That's a high cost solution to a minor issue.

🍻

I suspect that that was the intent.
 

1712102862555.png

Project BOAR, spearheaded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), is a pioneering initiative aimed at establishing a comprehensive drone mesh network capable of operating beyond visual line of sight. At the heart of this endeavor lies a tethered drone-in-a-box solution, pivotal in providing real-time sensor data to enhance traffic flow management and base security protocols. Through seamless API integration facilitated by AFRL’s servers, the command center gains the ability to task multiple drones simultaneously, ensuring enhanced operational efficiency.
 

Kratos confirmed last month that there were at least five variants of the Valkyrie either in production or development, as The War Zone was the first to report, but made no mention of an MQ-58B version. "M" is the prefix for "multi-mission" in the U.S. military-wide aircraft designation system. The use of "M" rather than "X" for experimental also points to a platform intended for actual operational use.

The mention of the MQ-58B Valkyrie variant was included in a press release that Kratos put out yesterday about a recent test involving a Marine XQ-58A carrying an electronic attack payload. Kratos did not say when that event occurred, but the company's release included a picture of a Marine Valkyrie flying with a pair of U.S. Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighters during a previously announced test flight out of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on February 23 of this year.


I think we are rapidly realizing that something designed to shoot down fighter planes should not be attacked with fighter planes. It sounds silly when you say it like that but maybe something that is extremely easy to produce or less difficult to produce and something that is difficult to target might be better is a way for us to invert the cost/benefit ratio. What I mean by that is if they shoot an exquisite system at a cheaper blue asset, we are winning if they hit it because an exposure event launched it and the cost event by expending that round. Attacking things designed to shoot down fighter planes with fighter planes is not good business. This thinking is somewhat of a shift."
 
As drones have developed, so have counter-drone technologies. Jamming is a cornerstone of Kyiv's, and Moscow's, attempts to pull down and knock off course enemy drones before they can complete their missions. AI, particularly machine vision, is one tool intended to fight off these effects.

With machine vision, the objective is for the drone to find its way independently to its target, having learned to distinguish where it is in a given terrain.

"The main goal is to sever the dependence on communication between the drone and the operator, and the drone with a satellite for navigation," Samuel Bendett of the U.S. think tank CNA told Newsweek.

Using a drone that can strike a target without any guidance from an operator, completing a mission even with jamming, has obvious battlefield advantages when counter-drone technology is everywhere.

"There are even systems that can look at the ground beneath and puzzle out where it is, to sidestep GPS jamming," U.K.-based drone expert Steve Wright told Newsweek.

With the pressures of war, Kyiv and Moscow are hoping to integrate new, experimental AI in much shorter time frames than many countries in the West have to develop and discuss the technology.

In Ukraine, it is "used rapidly and without significant obstacles or guardrails in order to quickly gain advantage over the adversary," Bendett said.

With AI, it is impossible to be totally sure that the computer will not "do something completely unexpected and unsafe," Wright said. "In the West, we are spending huge efforts wrestling with that problem, but of course the Ukrainians do not have that luxury."


Army and Marine Corps commanders employ JAGMs from rotary-wing and uncrewed aircraft to engage enemy combatants in stationary and moving armored and unarmored vehicles, within complex building and bunker structures, in small boats, and in the open.

In December 2023, Lockheed Martin announced that it had successfully conducted a guidance flight test for the JAGM Medium-Range missile, demonstrating the target discrimination capability of the missile’s tri-mode seeker.

“[T]he enhanced tri-mode seeker provides a new level of precision guidance and defence capabilities, allowing JAGM-MR to lock onto the selected target even when there [are] multiple targets in the field,” the company informed.



Under pressure of war the Ukrainians and Russians (among many other countries seeking assymetrical advantages over conventional forces) are experimenting in the field. The risks from doing nothing are worse than the risks of doing something, anything. Meanwhile we have the luxury of havering.

I gather that I am seen as being too much of a supporter of technological solutions. Perhaps that is because I have spent a lifetime seeing new technologies applied to old processes, a lifetime watching people literally bet the farm on a new idea and then have to make it work to its optimum. In military jargon the effort may culminate before the bet pays off but the bettor always has to make the best of the situation before them. Seldom can they afford to junk the kit they bet on.

My exposure started with cutting plastic cards that fed into electro-mechanical readers. Cogs drove the cards through the readers and cam-switches read the peaks and valleys that my father and I cut into the ridges on the plastic cards. Artificial Intelligence started as a clockwork device much like those mediaeval town clocks. On a regular schedule each of those cam-switches observed those plastic ridges, oriented itself to the peak or the valley, "decided" to go up or down and acted to turn on or turn off the device to which it was attached. Clockwork OODA loops. Physical programming.

As my career progressed the technology progressed from electro-mechanical logic with physical programming, to transistorized integrated circuit boards programmed with Reverse Polish Notation, to Programmable Logic Controllers with digital IO programmed by various proprietary ladder logic systems that sought to emulate electrical diagrams, to various HMI based systems based on every programming language known to man and many that were unknown to any but the inventor.

The common factor was that all of those systems were made to work because the people who had invested their capital in those systems had no option but to make them work. Even if the commissioning engineer could only deliver 80% of expectations at the end of the warranty period, even after the vendor throwing all sorts of free stuff at the cure, the user had to figure out how to deliver the other 20% by means of external work arounds. You lot would call that adapting Tactics, Training and Procedures.

A neat thing happens then. The commissioning engineers and the sales teams observe those TTPs, orient them to the original intent, decide on the changes necessary and then act to implement those changes in the next generation of solutions. Next time around they are still only 80% successful in achieving their goals but they were starting from a base of 80%. They were only chasing the last 20%. 80% of 20% is 16%. Add that 16% improvement to the original 80% success and after two iterations they have achieved 96% of their goal. And the customer gets to trim their TTPs again and the vendors team OODAs all over again. Continually.

I have been observing this, and participating in this, for the past 60 years. I have faith in the ability of people, not necessarily a person, or even a team, but people at large, to find solutions - to convert Dick Tracy wrist watches, Captain Kirk communicators and Spock Tricorders into real things. Real things that people moan about and complain that it could be better, that it doesn't do everything that it should,...but which does a lot more than the original novelist ever envisaged.

...

The other part of the equation is the revolution in sensors. As noted those early electromechanical devices were clockwork devices - very Soviet. They were driven by the clock and they drove the plan according to the clock and had very limited input from the environment. If the environment changed they continued to operate according to the clock and the plan. And I have spent many hours unfecking those trainwrecks and trying to figure out how to change the environment to suit the plan. Situating the estimate in the real world.


I have used sensors that detected temperature and pressure, vibration and speed, direction and orientation, density, air content, pH .... yadda yadda but the biggest and IMO most valuable sensors are the electro-optical sensors - and here I will include all RF sensors.

My first machine vision exposure was on a Swiss machine designed in the 1960s to wrap butter. Some of you may recognize the manufacturer. SIG. The operating principle was that a role of wax paper was spread over a flat surface with a rectangular hole in it. A rectangular block of butter was pressed into the paper and down into the hole and presto - a wrapped pat of butter.

The entire sequence was controlled by mechanical vision. Each pat of butter required a certain length of paper. That length was determined by small black rectangles printed on the wax paper at regular intervals. Those black rectangle were detected when they passed over a light and block the light to photocell. That blocking of the light triggered the sequence which resulted in a wrapped pat of butter and loaded the next pat and the next piece of paper. It worked just like you would expect a SIG automatic to work. Those black rectangles were single pixels.

Now we have sensors that can observe mega-pixels concurrently and orient them, decide and act on them concurrently. And everybody has this miracle technology in their pocket and it only costs a few hundred dollars. And the technology is applicable to everything that is sensible.

.....

The military has been flying clockwork missiles for generations. By the 1950s it was applying proximity sensors to artillery rounds. By the 1980s DAMASK optical seekers were guiding bombs to targets independently, MMW seekers were guiding Merlin mortar bombs and Brimstone missiles for the Brits and the Swedes were using IR seekers on their Strix mortar bombs. Those seekers are now integrated in JAGM missiles.

I understand that somewhere along the way during my 60 years of observing that people have taken to referring to Artificial Intelligence but they seem to have difficulty determining where the boundary lies between the technology represented by my father's plastic cards and electro-mechanical reader and a loitering missile on auto-pilot with an MMW seeker capable of precisely targeting the open hatch of a running T72 when surrounded by burnt out T72s and Abrams.

...

Why am I so keen on promoting technology solutions? Because I know that the Ukrainians, and the Russians, driven by circumstances to accept 80% solutions are leaving the havering West in their dust.

....


Again, I would buy 1200 Valkyries and 64 F35s before I would buy 88 F35s. And I would make them work. Even if I could only achieve 80% of the plan and had to adjust TTPs to suit.
 





Under pressure of war the Ukrainians and Russians (among many other countries seeking assymetrical advantages over conventional forces) are experimenting in the field. The risks from doing nothing are worse than the risks of doing something, anything. Meanwhile we have the luxury of havering.

I gather that I am seen as being too much of a supporter of technological solutions. Perhaps that is because I have spent a lifetime seeing new technologies applied to old processes, a lifetime watching people literally bet the farm on a new idea and then have to make it work to its optimum. In military jargon the effort may culminate before the bet pays off but the bettor always has to make the best of the situation before them. Seldom can they afford to junk the kit they bet on.

My exposure started with cutting plastic cards that fed into electro-mechanical readers. Cogs drove the cards through the readers and cam-switches read the peaks and valleys that my father and I cut into the ridges on the plastic cards. Artificial Intelligence started as a clockwork device much like those mediaeval town clocks. On a regular schedule each of those cam-switches observed those plastic ridges, oriented itself to the peak or the valley, "decided" to go up or down and acted to turn on or turn off the device to which it was attached. Clockwork OODA loops. Physical programming.

As my career progressed the technology progressed from electro-mechanical logic with physical programming, to transistorized integrated circuit boards programmed with Reverse Polish Notation, to Programmable Logic Controllers with digital IO programmed by various proprietary ladder logic systems that sought to emulate electrical diagrams, to various HMI based systems based on every programming language known to man and many that were unknown to any but the inventor.

The common factor was that all of those systems were made to work because the people who had invested their capital in those systems had no option but to make them work. Even if the commissioning engineer could only deliver 80% of expectations at the end of the warranty period, even after the vendor throwing all sorts of free stuff at the cure, the user had to figure out how to deliver the other 20% by means of external work arounds. You lot would call that adapting Tactics, Training and Procedures.

A neat thing happens then. The commissioning engineers and the sales teams observe those TTPs, orient them to the original intent, decide on the changes necessary and then act to implement those changes in the next generation of solutions. Next time around they are still only 80% successful in achieving their goals but they were starting from a base of 80%. They were only chasing the last 20%. 80% of 20% is 16%. Add that 16% improvement to the original 80% success and after two iterations they have achieved 96% of their goal. And the customer gets to trim their TTPs again and the vendors team OODAs all over again. Continually.

I have been observing this, and participating in this, for the past 60 years. I have faith in the ability of people, not necessarily a person, or even a team, but people at large, to find solutions - to convert Dick Tracy wrist watches, Captain Kirk communicators and Spock Tricorders into real things. Real things that people moan about and complain that it could be better, that it doesn't do everything that it should,...but which does a lot more than the original novelist ever envisaged.

...

The other part of the equation is the revolution in sensors. As noted those early electromechanical devices were clockwork devices - very Soviet. They were driven by the clock and they drove the plan according to the clock and had very limited input from the environment. If the environment changed they continued to operate according to the clock and the plan. And I have spent many hours unfecking those trainwrecks and trying to figure out how to change the environment to suit the plan. Situating the estimate in the real world.


I have used sensors that detected temperature and pressure, vibration and speed, direction and orientation, density, air content, pH .... yadda yadda but the biggest and IMO most valuable sensors are the electro-optical sensors - and here I will include all RF sensors.

My first machine vision exposure was on a Swiss machine designed in the 1960s to wrap butter. Some of you may recognize the manufacturer. SIG. The operating principle was that a role of wax paper was spread over a flat surface with a rectangular hole in it. A rectangular block of butter was pressed into the paper and down into the hole and presto - a wrapped pat of butter.

The entire sequence was controlled by mechanical vision. Each pat of butter required a certain length of paper. That length was determined by small black rectangles printed on the wax paper at regular intervals. Those black rectangle were detected when they passed over a light and block the light to photocell. That blocking of the light triggered the sequence which resulted in a wrapped pat of butter and loaded the next pat and the next piece of paper. It worked just like you would expect a SIG automatic to work. Those black rectangles were single pixels.

Now we have sensors that can observe mega-pixels concurrently and orient them, decide and act on them concurrently. And everybody has this miracle technology in their pocket and it only costs a few hundred dollars. And the technology is applicable to everything that is sensible.

.....

The military has been flying clockwork missiles for generations. By the 1950s it was applying proximity sensors to artillery rounds. By the 1980s DAMASK optical seekers were guiding bombs to targets independently, MMW seekers were guiding Merlin mortar bombs and Brimstone missiles for the Brits and the Swedes were using IR seekers on their Strix mortar bombs. Those seekers are now integrated in JAGM missiles.

I understand that somewhere along the way during my 60 years of observing that people have taken to referring to Artificial Intelligence but they seem to have difficulty determining where the boundary lies between the technology represented by my father's plastic cards and electro-mechanical reader and a loitering missile on auto-pilot with an MMW seeker capable of precisely targeting the open hatch of a running T72 when surrounded by burnt out T72s and Abrams.

...

Why am I so keen on promoting technology solutions? Because I know that the Ukrainians, and the Russians, driven by circumstances to accept 80% solutions are leaving the havering West in their dust.

....


Again, I would buy 1200 Valkyries and 64 F35s before I would buy 88 F35s. And I would make them work. Even if I could only achieve 80% of the plan and had to adjust TTPs to suit.
I broadly agree with your line of thinking, but the issue I see is that the main defence companies sometimes…uh…pad their stats so as to be completely night and day from the actual performance.

If we had a procurement system that was actually agile (and I would argue that only UKR has that at this time due to operational reasons), then buying a few of X often and trying them out operationally is a good thing. But short of TB or whoever giving CAF a whack of cash with no/few strings attached and just letting us go Mad Scientist on it - or massively invest in the DRDC Ideas program - it would be hard to keep up.

But back on topic:


Even as I was reading this, I can already see USAF members’ eyes rolling. It is hard to change culture and the “typical” roles for military branches.
 
I broadly agree with your line of thinking, but the issue I see is that the main defence companies sometimes…uh…pad their stats so as to be completely night and day from the actual performance.

No. You're wrong. They don't sometimes pad. They always pad. They are always wrong. The trick is to find out how wrong they are and what can be done with the piece of kit that ends up in your hands.

If we had a procurement system that was actually agile (and I would argue that only UKR has that at this time due to operational reasons), then buying a few of X often and trying them out operationally is a good thing. But short of TB or whoever giving CAF a whack of cash with no/few strings attached and just letting us go Mad Scientist on it - or massively invest in the DRDC Ideas program - it would be hard to keep up.

And here we get to the crux of the matter. Wartime armies go all Mad Scientist - and rapidly evolve to meet changing situations. Peacetime armies ossify. The longer the peace the more the ossification. The less adaptable and flexible they become. Until somebody, like a USMC Commandant, comes along and sez "We're changing! Adapt!"

But short of TB or whoever giving CAF a whack of cash with no/few strings attached

I suggest that this is the battle that must be fought. And I suggest that that Mad Money exists.

Your project managers are turning back billions in unspent cash.

I suggest that that cash should be applied to project contingency funds and used accordingly.

If the new kit fails to perform and needs to be modified - buy the modification from contingency funds
If the modified kit fails to perform and TTPs need to be modified - adjust the TTP requirements from contingency funds.
If the kit meets expectations, with or without modifications and modified TTPs - buy the revised next generation prototype from contingency funds.

And if the rules don't permit that then fight to have the rules changed.

I have heard silly buggers chant "Failure is not an option" throughout my entire life.
Failure is the only option.
Everything comes up short. Always. If only because the situation keeps changing.
Adapting to those failures costs money. And the Treasury Board is the only source of that money.


But back on topic:


Even as I was reading this, I can already see USAF members’ eyes rolling. It is hard to change culture and the “typical” roles for military branches.

So the topic was cultural adaptation and change?
 

The first three F-16 Fighting Falcons that will be loaded with self-flying technology have arrived at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Air Force said Tuesday.

The arrival of the F-16s marks the service’s biggest step forward yet in standing up the program known as Venom, which stands for Viper Experimentation and Next-gen Operations Model-Autonomy Flying Testbed and aims to speed up the testing of autonomous technology on both crewed and uncrewed aircraft.

The Air Force hopes the autonomous technology tested under Venom could help it more quickly shape plans to create a fleet of self-flying drones that team up with crewed fighters in battle, known as collaborative combat aircraft.

The service is heavily focusing on creating a fleet of at least 1,000 CCAs, which will use autonomous capabilities to fly alongside aircraft such as the F-35 or future Next-Generation Air Dominance family of fighter systems. These drone wingmen would carry missiles or other weapons to strike enemy targets, jam enemy signals through electronic warfare operations or perform reconnaissance missions.

The Air Force is increasingly confident autonomous capabilities have advanced to the point where such aircraft can succeed.
 

View attachment 84207
What does that drone do when it's 27025G35KT 2SM -SHRA BKN005 OVC010?
 

Shield AI, headquartered in San Diego, said it has entered into a “definitive agreement” to acquire Sentient Vision Systems, an Aussie firm specializing in “passive, optical detection using wide area motion imagery” with AI-enabled sensors. The acquisition will go ahead pending closing and regulatory approval, Shield AI said.

“The companies will merge AI expertise and operational understanding to deliver superior intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities for today’s rapidly changing defense and security environment,” Shield AI’s announcement says.


The companies already work together, having a announced a joint project in August to develop imagery tech. In today’s release, Shield AI President Brandon Tseng made it clear the acquisition — combining Shield AI’s artificial intelligence pilot, drones and Sentient’s imagery capabilities — is meant to help his firm to provide a solution for the US Department of Defense in its quest for “an all-seeing eye over tens of thousands of square miles, 24/7, without the need for GPS or communication links.”

Hivemind is “the Android operating system with the aircraft manufacturer,” Tseng told Breaking Defense in October. “So the same way Android works with Nokia, Samsung … we want to work with every OEM [original equipment manufacturer], every aircraft.”

And


The use of relatively inexpensive unmanned systems in a maritime context is typically viewed through the lens of them being threats to warships. However, the potential for lower-end drones to be used to those same warships' advantages, both defensively and offensively, is arguably just as big of a deal.
 

As the Army chief of staff pushes to put more experimental tech into the hands of average soldiers, two brigades at opposite ends of the globe are already pressing forward on everything from commercial drones to translation apps.

One—the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, or IBCT, of the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division—is putting commercial drones at the core of every operation, a program that got a boost in the Army’s recent budget submission.

The other—the Europe-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment—is experimenting with cutting-edge software and other tech, including virtual reality, that increases units’ ability to survive on a modern battlefield.

The 2nd Cav’s work has even become a template for the broader transformation that Gen. Randy George wants to see in the Army.


Out in Hawaii, 2nd IBCT commander Col. Graham White has been seeding drones across his unit for the last year.
...

He said soldiers from logistics to infantry are trained on the use of commercial drones by the brigade’s helicopter pilots in a two-day course. They get additional practice flying the drones on the units’ ranges. Finding the area to fly drones without violating airspace regulations has been a challenge for Army units.

To sharpen his soldiers’ skills, White has also worked small drones into existing competitions to hone flight and visual recognition abilities. For example, soldiers competing in events like a rope climb or a marksmanship challenge might have to use a drone to identify a sniper hiding in a fake village.

Soldiers particularly love drone races that require navigation or reading text placed in hard-to-access places. “That’s a popular one, because it requires skill with a joystick,”, White said.

The unit operates around 12 drones representing four models from the Defense Department Blue UAS list, White said. His soldiers have found that a wide variety of drones, including longer-range fixed-wing, shorter-range, quadcopters, and a mix of sensors is required.

White encourages use of the drones, even if that means they are accidentally damaged in training.


“We are not putting incredibly stringent measures in place as it pertains to soldiers’ employment on those platforms,” White said. “We do realize they're gonna break in, and we do realize that we'll buy more.”

White pays for the drones out of his operations budget,
a fund of several hundred thousand dollars more typically used for training and other needs. White said that drone purchases had to be built into the budget: “I need to make it a priority for it to occur,” he said.

Re the variety of drones

Three basic forms?

1712339659258.png1712339712934.png1712339781848.png

The one that can take off and land anywhere but has to pedal like crazy to stay in the air and burns lots of energy - suitable for short hops
The one that can hang on the wind forever but needs an assist to get in the air and to land - loiters high and quiet
The one that bridges the two that can take off and land like a copter but can transition to winged flight and hang on the breeze. (125 lb for 10 hours at 20,000 feet)


General characteristics

  • Crew: none
  • Length: 9 ft (2.7 m)
  • Wingspan: 9.7 ft (3.0 m)
  • Gross weight: 125 lb (57 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Suter TOA 288 two-cylinder engine
Performance

  • Maximum speed: 56 mph (90 km/h, 49 kn)
  • Endurance: 10 hours
  • Service ceiling: 20,000 ft (6,100 m)
Avionics
electro-optical (EO)/mid-wave infrared (MWIR) cameras
 
Further to

In Europe

Thousands of miles away in Germany, the 2nd Cavalry regiment is also experimenting with adding in more commercial tech as well.

In one December exercise, 2nd Cavalry units had communications set up from the moment their vehicles rolled off transport planes thanks to commercial satellite services, said 2nd Cavalry Regiment commander Col. Robert McChrystal.

The unit also experimented with a virtual command post accessed via augmented reality goggles, from Palantir’s Immersive Command and Control, or IC2. Using the sets allowed units separated by hundreds of miles to look at the same screens as if they were in the same room, said McChrystal.
 
The future of warfare is playing out “in front of our very eyes” in the Middle East

The U.S. military is still shooting Houthi unmanned aircraft off the coast of Yemen, and most recently, on March 30, U.S. forces destroyed two Houthi UAVs, one “over the Red Sea and the other was engaged on the ground prepared to launch.”

Grynkewich said they have a “layered” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection strategy to obtain information to carry out pre-emptive strikes. The command receives imagery from “national sources” and also uses an airborne layer of ISR, such as the MQ-9 Reaper, to collect information.

“We kind of pull all that together and then we have a small cell that fuses this very rapidly, so as tipping and queuing comes in, we can even rapidly retask assets to go take a closer look at it. And then, we're looking for the telltale signs that something’s set up, something's on a launch or something's ready to go. Sometimes that's backed up by other intelligence that we understand some of the intent behind what we might be seeing,” he said.

That information then gets delivered to the aircraft conducting the strike via the battle management network, Grynkewich said.

“The overall command-and-control architecture includes aircraft, it includes ships and so there's always someone who is doing the battle-management function, so it'll come from our dynamic cell and the air operations center, get transmitted to whoever that battle manager is,” he said.

New drone efforts

To monitor military operations in the Middle East, Grynkewich said his command has used new capabilities from Task Force 99, AFCENT’s push to field unmanned technologies.

“Their task is to develop solutions that we can apply in Yemen or elsewhere. We have used their capabilities in the AOR, in actual combat conditions before. I won't say where it was but we have done that before, and I intend to do it again as soon as we have the right capability to apply in the right environment,” he said.

Last fall, Grynkewich said the group had almost 100 unmanned systems “either on order or on hand” across 13 types that can travel anywhere from 10 miles to 900 miles and conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance or attack missions.

“They have a couple of promising technologies. I won't get into exactly what they are, but in general, the task I've given them is I need them to figure out a way to flood the zone with additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, so we can identify these threats in the maritime domain faster, better, cheaper than we can right now, and they’re getting really close,” he said Wednesday.

The future of warfare is playing out “in front of our very eyes” in the Middle East, with drone swarms of 20 to 30 coming out of Yemen, and smaller swarms being used in Iraq and Syria, Grynkewich said.

“Certainly, the Iranians would have the capability to send these swarms and it would be a swarm that's not just UAVs but probably cruise missiles and you pair it with a ballistic missile, now you have a multi-domain problem—atmospheric and exoatmospheric that you have to deal with at the same time,” he said.

Grynkewich wants to “turn that around” and use affordable mass to overcome the defenses of adversaries. The Pentagon’s new drone program, called Replicator, aims to do just that and quickly build cheap drones in the “multiple thousands.”

“Replicator is trying to identify which of the solutions that we have is affordable, but we haven't quite figured out how to scale it so that its mass, and make that happen, and see [whether] industry [can] support getting the numbers that we would need, etc., to do that,” he said.

 
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