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The Military United States

US Army Tests Swarms of Drones In Major Exercise (itworld.com) 47

itwbennett writes: The U.S. Army, curious about the potential threat and usefulness of off-the-shelf drones, brought consumer quadcopters and octocopters to the Network Integration Evaluation war games that concluded earlier this month at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, and Fort Bliss, Texas. "During the exercise, which is used by the Army to help evaluate new technology, the drones were deployed as a swarm to simulate a threat,' writes Martyn Williams. 'Later, the Army expanded the trials to discover whether it might be able to make use of the same technology." The results are pretty much what you'd expect: "It has been proved that consumer [drones] can be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, distraction tactics and, in the future, the ability to drop small munitions," said Barry Hatchett with the Army's Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation.
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US Army Tests Swarms of Drones In Major Exercise

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  • We're talking about Tracker Jackers.

    • That or EPIC drops in the field!

      Unlock Achieved: GATLING GUN

      Drone en route...

    • Re:So basically... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday October 30, 2015 @06:46PM (#50836025) Homepage

      Yeah - I think the concept of "dropping" munitions is thinking about it wrong. If you're dropping it, then it has to be a "smart munition" (wherein what's the point of a smart carrier?"), and if it's dumb, you're never going to hit by just dropping. And if you're not considering your craft expendible than you have to try to protect it, and you have to have the range to get back. Which rules out deploying your drones as effective "submunitions" of another delivery vehicle (drones dropped by plane, balloon or rocket technically don't even need motors, just control surfaces to control their glide to their targets)

      "modified consumer drones" = cheap, but with camera and a degree of processing power = suicide seeker craft. Give it enough power to do basic image recognition, run it remotely until it gets (inevitably) jammed wherein it switches over to automated tracking and does its best to hit its target, in as rapid of a dive as it can manage. Plastic/composite = low radar cross signature. Small visibility cross section, and could be made out of clear plastic if desired. Low heat signature - on a glider, nearly none. You're talking something very hard to detect, and very hard to hit even if you detected it. And probably a lot cheaper than any countermeasure rocket you might try to launch at it. It doesn't take some massive weapon to take out an armoured vehicle - usually 1-4kg, depending on the warhead. So while we're not talking microdrones here, we're not talking about something huge either.

      In a way, weapons are already moving in this direction. Look at the Javelin, for example. It doesn't just home in on a the center of some heat source - it uses multiple spectral frequencies and a 64x64 pixel sensor and processes the images with pattern-matching algorithms to aim for the place where the target will be located (not where it is), to avoid being tricked by decoys, and to pick the "sweet spot" on its target. It goes up - by rocket power, not prop power, but nonetheless - cruises laterally, then rapidly descends on its target. The operator doesn't need to be at the location of firing or continuously paint the target. Etc. It's a rocket, not a drone, but one can see the same strategy applied to drones. The main difference is that a rocket uses a big heavy, obvious thrust system to try to get to a target before it can get out of the way or hide, while a drone does its best to not be seen, taking its time until it finds a good opportunity and then striking.

  • Also resupply (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cmeans ( 81143 ) <cmeans@intfaDEBIANr.com minus distro> on Friday October 30, 2015 @04:56PM (#50835429) Homepage Journal
    I could easily see drones being used to resupply both ammo and medical consumables. Heavy duty drones could also possibly be used to ferry the wounded off the field of battle...though I guess it also just makes another target.
    • Small, cheap, expendable drones carrying the equivalent of a hand grenade could attack individual enemy soldiers. Slightly bigger ones could carry the equivalent of the warhead of an RPG, come close overhead of an armoured vehicle, and fire down into it. Ukraine could certainly use such things.
    • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Friday October 30, 2015 @06:25PM (#50835937)

      I could easily see drones being used to resupply both ammo and medical consumables. Heavy duty drones could also possibly be used to ferry the wounded off the field of battle...though I guess it also just makes another target.

      The current medevac helicopters with white and red international medical evacuation markings are already targets for some enemies. The problem with the drone is that medevac (unarmed, marked) and casevac (armed, unmarked) aircraft not only provide quick transportation but also have medics and corpsmen (Navy medical personnel that go into combat with Marines) onboard to provide treatment during the flight. Drones would be a step back to WW2 and Korean War days where helicopters could only provide transportation.

      Maybe a hybrid approach. If the landing zone is hot (under fire) medevac/casevac land somewhere "safe" nearby and the drones only ferry the wounded to them. Hopefully only a few blocks in an urban environment, 1/4 mile in undeveloped terrain?

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday October 30, 2015 @06:53PM (#50836067) Homepage

        A drone might be harder to target than a medevac helicopter. It has no crew, only needing to carry the one patient, so it can automatically be much smaller and lighter, which means a smaller target and lower heat signature. And that's assuming it's still combustion-powered. An electric medevac drone would obviously have a much shorter range, but could still be useful to get people from a raid back to a FOB. Switching from ICE to electric would further reduce your heat signature 3-4 fold. It could (potentially) also be quieter.

        Smaller could also potentially mean "portable". A team raiding a village could potentially bring one with them, leaving it ready to go on the outskirts. Which raises other possibilities: transporting people into raid areas (although you'd have little to no armour) or even transporting secured prisoners out.

        While electric sucks in terms of range per kg, it excels in terms of power per kg. So if you're not trying to move people far...

        • In that hybrid approach I mentioned I was envisioning the casevac aircraft carrying in and deploying the drone for that last "1/4 mile".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 30, 2015 @05:27PM (#50835595)

    As has been demonstrated by a wayward military blimp recently, if you hang a long cables from drones and fly them into high voltage power lines, you have a pretty good chance of taking down part of the power grid.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Or drop poison into water supplies.

      Or shut down highways.

      Or disrupt industrial production.

      Lots of creative ways to use drones.

    • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Friday October 30, 2015 @06:28PM (#50835955)

      As has been demonstrated by a wayward military blimp recently, if you hang a long cables from drones and fly them into high voltage power lines, you have a pretty good chance of taking down part of the power grid.

      Such weapons already exist. Aerial bombs that release long strings of conductive material above ground, the material then drifts down onto power lines and power stations and shorts things out. NATO used such weapons in the Balkans in the 1990s to avoid casualties and permanent infrastructure damage.

  • US Army Tests Swarms of Drones In Major Exercise

    "If I was you Major, I'd run..."

  • Suicide drones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ArylAkamov ( 4036877 ) on Friday October 30, 2015 @05:41PM (#50835671)

    I would think the real threat would come from swarms loaded with TATP or some other easy to manufacture explosive. Simply attack a target by swarming it and then exploding upon impact.

    What do you do when there are huge swarms of flying suicide bombers coming at you?

    • I think you've re-invented the guided missile [wikipedia.org].

      • Yeah, not exactly anything new but what is more suspicious to buy? Which is easier to source, cheaper, etc.

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        More of a mobile aerial minefield. You don't need to worry about guidance, just make it impossible to get through without contact.

    • Build a close-in weapons system [wikipedia.org], fit it with lasers, and run a few fun^H^H^H destructive tests.

    • I would think the real threat would come from swarms loaded with TATP or some other easy to manufacture explosive. Simply attack a target by swarming it and then exploding upon impact. What do you do when there are huge swarms of flying suicide bombers coming at you?

      Close the hatch on the armored vehicle, repaint the exterior as needed when you get back to base?

      Slight mod to your design. Ditch the homemade stuff and just go with a low tech claymore mine. Its hard to image that the army has not already mounted a claymore to the bottom of a drone at some testing range.

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        Recoil would be problematic. Jettisoning a grenade is probably easier and less likely to destroy the done (assuming adequate altitude).

    • by Rinikusu ( 28164 )

      Fishing line nets, launched or hung between obstacles.. might not stop them all but could muck up the first few waves.

  • http://www.popularmechanics.com/flight/drones/news/a17371/record-breaking-drone-swarm/

    And I don't think anyone who knows anything about drones, consumer grade or otherwise, doesn't immediately grasp their potential for surveillance and munition delivery.

  • by ISoldat53 ( 977164 ) on Friday October 30, 2015 @06:44PM (#50836015)
    It's time to return shotguns to the Army.
  • Mount a small camera, pair with a viewing device, remote pilot "drone" with a kg or so of plastic explosive attached to it and detonate at target. Don't worry about "dropping" the munition. If it gets shot down, remote trigger detonation anyway.

  • PT boats (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Friday October 30, 2015 @06:56PM (#50836071)

    When the Navy runs economically based war games (simulations), fleets of small ships overwhelm and dominate similar budgets spent on large capital ships or fleets of mixed size.

    Thing is, the Navy, Air Force, Army, etc. isn't about winning conflicts based on having the most powerful force we can field for a given budget. Shock and Awe play a huge part - the political power of stealth bombers, nuclear subs and aircraft carriers is in their ability to put a sense of dread and hopelessness into the enemy without having to fire a shot, or risk a life.

    So, in this instance, I imagine that if you spent the cost of a modern B-52 on a fleet of small munitions equipped drones, you could probably pummel the hell out of any target within the drones' range, the death of a thousand cuts. There are some logistics problems, and the whole fleet could be overwhelmed with large air-bursts that exceed their flight capabilities, but if that same defensive firepower were targeted on the B-52, it would come down too. Obviously, consumer grade stuff isn't made to withstand any kind of challenge, but 100 small drones that can fly at 30,000 feet and an operational range of ~100 miles - that can be quite a threat.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Am I the only one thinking of non-lethal drones? Some examples.

    - An "electric eel drone" that seeks out the face of enemy fighters, clings to it (think alien) and shocks them if they try to pull loose. Could be used in environments with civilians present. Think tazer + small drone + cell phone camera.

    - Underwater drone that finds submarines, clings to them and sends out a tracking signal.

    - Sea drones that entagles propellers of ships that needs to be caught with wire/net/mesh/etc.

  • [el-shamel.com]
  • So, how long until some large well-funded organized group of nasty people get their hands on several of these and sets them to killing innocent civilians?

There is hardly a thing in the world that some man can not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.

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