As Chinese state-owned companies continue to make artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled drone swarms, it seems that the US is investing heavily in developing its counter-drone systems. And the latest addition is US Navy’s Drone Sentry-X.
In a drone swarm, multiple unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can mount an attack in a coordinated manner. The drones usually form a single, integrated weapon system operated by some form of artificial intelligence.
The use of drones is increasingly becoming common in conflicts. Experts believe that the effective use of commercial Turkish drones and kamikaze drones helped Azerbaijan forces to win the war against Armenia last year.
Fighting for Nagorno- Karabakh, it was reported that Azerbaijan used the Turkish manufactured Bayraktar TB2 drones and other loitering munitions.
In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas earlier this year, the Jewish nation had reportedly used drone swarms. According to reports, drones manufactured by Elbit Systems were deployed to perform’ coordinated searches and many were used in coordination with mortars and ground-based missiles to strike targets.
US’ Drone Sentry-X
The US Navy has completed a six-week-long test of an automated detect-and-defeat anti-drone system.
The system – the Drone Sentry-X – was tested onboard the US Navy’s M-80 Stiletto, which according to The War Zone, “is a stealthy floating supercomputer, mothership and command and control station that is capable of rocketing through the water at high speeds in very shallow waters”.
The Drone Sentry-X has been manufactured by the Australian defense firm, Drone Shield. It is a “cross-vehicle compatible, automated 360 degrees detect and defeat device”.
The 360 degrees of drone disruption guards the vehicle against multi- drone threats or swarms. The system can be used as part of mobile operations or on-site surveillance and can be positioned on the roof of a standard vehicle or any other fixed application.
The Drone Sentry-X provides real-time situational awareness and is capable of responding to UAS threats. A live map of local UAS activity and real-time data can be accessed by the operators through the system’s digital control panel.
The defeat capabilities of the system can be altered and set manually depending on the UAS activity in its range. The system is reported to be highly durable, built with resistance to shocks, weather, and UV exposure.
Using artificial intelligence, the system analyses the radiofrequency and can detect any unfriendly drone in the surroundings. On detection of radio bands of unfriendly drones, the system activates the “non-kinetic jamming” to counter the threats.
Reportedly the detection range of the Drone Sentry-X is more than 2 km, while the disruption range is more than 300 m.
For the recent test, the US Navy used the Drone Sentry-X pod, which is designed for roof-mounted applications. The system consisted of an IP66-rated octagonal shell, which was operated by using a tablet-based digital control panel and display.
It was reported that the anti-drone system passed all the tests it underwent onboard the M-80 Stiletto, although the exact nature of the tests is not known.
Can THOR Tackle Drone Swarms?
Earlier this year, The EurAsian Times reported that the US aims to conduct field-testing of a new microwave weapon, the THOR. The Tactical High Power Operational Responder (THOR) is a counter-swarm electromagnetic weapon and has been developed by the Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base.
The microwave weapons use highly focused sonic, laser or microwave energy to attack their targets. The DEW uses a focused beam of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation to warm the water under the skin. They convert energy from a power source such as a wall plug or an engine of a military vehicle into radiated electromagnetic energy and concentrate it on their target.
THOR is a prototype directed energy weapon used to disable the electronics in #drones & is specifically engineered to counter multiple targets – such as a drone swarm – with rapid results. @AFResearchLab @USArmy https://t.co/ar0B0nUO8W
— U.S. Air Force Materiel Command ✈️ (@HQ_AFMC) February 23, 2021
The US Army states that the development of laser weapons such as the THOR will help enhance its combat capabilities and help the US to counter the growing menace of drones. “High-energy lasers kill one target at a time, and high-powered microwaves can kill groups or swarms, which is why we are pursuing a combination of both technologies,” US Army’s Lieutenant General L. Neil Thurgood was quoted as saying.
Chinese Drone Swarms
The state-owned company China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) successfully conducted its swarm drone technology in 2020. A video released by the company showed drones being launched from a vehicle, akin to the Dongfeng Humvee as well as a helicopter.
David Hambling of the Forbes had stated that the drones were launched with compressed air, and they eventually unfold their wings and fly to the target area, with the help of an electric-powered propeller. The drones are also believed to be armed with high-explosive warheads, which may be powerful enough to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles. It is also believed that China has developed tactical loitering munitions such as the 20-pound CH-901.
— The Dead District (@TheDeadDistrict) October 14, 2020
The CH-901 is basically a kamikaze or suicide drone. But it can also be deployed in reconnaissance and surveillance missions by equipping it with a camera. Weighing approximately 9 kg, the CH-901 can fly at a speed from 7 to 120 kmph.
Reportedly CETC had also earlier developed a multifunction processing unit for swarm intelligence. Depending on the swarm intelligence algorithms and networking protocols, the processing unit may have features such as “flight control, mission planning, intelligence decision-making and dynamic networking, integrating the flight control system and the measurement and control system of traditional drones”.