DOD wants innovation to counter drone swarms

A 2019 drone swarm exercise conducted by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and the Army's Threat Systems Management Office.

A 2019 drone swarm exercise conducted by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and the Army's Threat Systems Management Office. U.S. Army Photo by Pv2 James Newsome

The Defense Department is planning a July outreach event to find new solutions from industry that can counter AI-enabled drone swarms over land, sea and air.

Department of Defense officials are increasingly concerned about the threat of autonomous drone \ swarms across multiple domains and are seeking new technology solutions, ranging from sensors to counter-artificial intelligence systems, to help defeat them.

In a special notice issued Monday, DOD officials outlined plans for an Innovation Outreach Solutions Meeting to be held with industry this summer to identify new tools to help defend against multi- and cross-domain Uncrewed Systems, or UxS, that could attack from the air, sea and both above and below ground. 

"Near-peer adversary nations are rapidly incorporating robust UxS capabilities into their military formations, and non-state actors are using UxS to increase their asymmetric advantage," said the notice. "The incorporation of autonomy into UxS increases the threat due to UxS improved navigation in highly cluttered environments, extended operating duration and circumvention of traditional indication, warning and defensive systems."

Tools to counter unmanned vehicles have been a hot topic in the defense industrial base for years, but concerns over AI and machine learning-enabled swarms of these vehicles able to operate independently of a remote pilot have grown recently, especially as drone warfare has increased in conflicts like Ukraine.

DOD officials are also concerned about autonomous drone swarms' ability to attack not only from the air, but also in undersea, land and subterranean domains. As a result, defense officials are looking for new industry technologies for "future capability demonstrations, experimentation events and ultimately, the rapid fielding of solutions for protecting and enabling the force to mitigate" autonomous threats.

The event—which is tentatively slated for mid-July—will focus on novel sensor technologies for detecting UxS swarms, autonomous defensive technologies that can prevent or spoof communication between UxS devices and operators and passive defeat capabilities that can disrupt the AI algorithms guiding UxS devices, alongside decoys and barriers to thwart potential attacks.

Companies will offer short technical presentations to government representatives to help inform market research. Applications are due May 12.