When Both Sides Have Drones, How Do You Know Which Ones to Kill?

A German military Mikado quadcopter flies through the air during a 2015 unmanned aircraft system demonstration at Camp Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny in Kosovo.

A German military Mikado quadcopter flies through the air during a 2015 unmanned aircraft system demonstration at Camp Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny in Kosovo. Stephanie Jewell/Multinational Battle Group - East

The U.S. Army recently tested a system that helps defenders wipe the skies of just the unfriendly aerial robots.

In November, the Army hosted a test of Pierce Aerospace’s Flight Portal ID at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. A friendly drone was equipped with a Bluetooth beacon, then sent aloft with a host of enemies, company CEO Aaron Pierce said. Air-defense operators in a Stryker ground vehicle was able to down the “enemy” drones and avoid the friendly one, using a Northrop Grumman anti-drone system called the Sophisticated Counter Unmanned Systems Weapon Radio Frequency that includes a 30mm X 113mm chain gun and a LiteEye electronic warfare system.

Defense One reached out to the public affairs office at Fort Sill and did not immediately receive comment.

“This was the first time getting kinetic with FPID and the results were desirable. I had eyes on the operation from the pilots' location watching multiple UAS fly down range from the Stryker's position. I was enthused when the system engaged the hostile UAS with a high explosive round fired from the Chain Gun, leaving our friendly, FPID equipped UAS, to continue operating in an airspace that was no longer contested,” Pierce said in a statement.

Further research will in part ways to better secure the transmission between the beacon and the receiver. 

A recently proposed FAA rule would require drones to be remotely identifiable to authorities, so Pierce’s system could have commercial use as well. 

The U.S. military is pressing ahead with a variety of swarm research efforts, as are the British armed forces. Last June at Fort Benning in Georgia, DARPA’s Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program tested flying and rolling drone swarms in the air in complex missions in urban environments, such as identifying and surrounding a mock city hall, maintaining situational awareness around it, going inside to collect an object, and securing it. 

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