On the night of January 6, Syrian rebels conducted what might have been a world first, a massed drone attack on a pair of Russian military bases.
Thirteen remote-controlled model aircraft armed, with small sub-munitions, approached the Hmeimim air base and the Tartus naval base in Latakia, Syria. Ten drones attacked Hmeimim while three attacked Tartus.
The attack was a total failure – all were downed, six by electronic means and seven by the air defence system, an expensive but maybe necessary response to very low-cost drones purchased in the local markets.
But what if the attack had involved dozens or even hundreds of drones? Just a few would be sufficient to cause substantial damage to expensive aircraft.
The proliferation of small over-the-counter unmanned aerial systems (UASs) of growing sophistication means these are likely to be an increasingly common element of future conflict, either in a surveillance role or weaponised.
Plenty of work has been done on drone countermeasures, ranging from electronics – most commercial drones operate on known frequency bands with common command protocols – through to net throwers, guns, missiles, and even hunter killer drones and trained birds-of-prey.
At Land Forces Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is showing off its Drone Guard counter-UAS systems which it describes as a mature capability with significant growth potential, and a list of (unspecified) foreign customers.
Drone Guard provides defence to sensitive facilities, using electronic means to jam UAV GPS and communication. It uses a portable three-dimensional radar which can detect and track low slow objects. Confirmation is by an optical sensor, and the jamming keeps the drone in a fixed area until power runs out.
IAI is also displaying a number of other capabilities at Land Forces, including its small loitering munitions Rotem L and Green Dragon. While the ADF has no specific requirement yet for a loitering munition, it is keeping watch on this emerging capability.
Rotem L is a 4.5kg quadcopter with day/night camera and a datalink transmitting to a tablet computer. It has a practical range of around 1,500 metres and endurance of up to 45 minutes. Two can be carried in a special backpack.
In basic configuration, it has a useful tactical ISR capability but, depending on mission requirement, it can readily be weaponised though installation of one or two standard Mk 26 hand grenades. If told to attack, it will dive onto a target at up to 50 knots.
Perhaps alone amongst small loitering munitions, if not expended it can safely return to its operator for use another day.
Green Dragon is a much larger fixed-wing tactical loitering munition, weighing 15kg including a 3kg warhead. It features a day/night camera and datalink to stream imagery to its operator, providing a substantial ISR capability.
Green Dragon can stay aloft for 90 minutes and range out to 40km and, if not used, can also be recovered. Individual Green Dragons are transported in and launched from a sealed canister, with 12-16 canisters carried by a vehicle such as a Hawkei or Humvee.