Category Archives: Robotics

Civilian Micro Drones, IEDs, and Extremists

Citation:

Kulshrestha, S. “Civilian Microdrones, IEDs, and Extremists”, IndraStra Global Vol. 04, Issue No: 01 (2018), 0035, http://www.indrastra.com/2018/01/Civilian-Micro-Drones-IEDs-and-Extremists-004-01-2018-0035.html | ISSN 2381-3652

 

“I look to the skies
and expect artificial passenger pigeons,
blackening the light,
people taking potshots for kicks
imagining one day they will be extinct.”
Carl-John X Veraj

The proliferation of COTS drones
Unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (UAVs/UAS), have been used by military forces in conflict zones to meet various operational requirements for a long time. However, it is only now, due to the availability of Drone technologies from commercial off the shelf (COTS) market sources, that the use of the UAV/Drones [End note 1]. in the civilian arena have found multifarious applications. This availability of Drones is also being gainfully exploited by terrorists/extremists/non-state actors/insurgents & rebels for furthering their nefarious purposes. The Drones have been weaponised innovatively to drop mini bombs, booby trapping, and carrying out kamikaze attacks on the targets of interest. The exploding of a precision crashed drone, in a target area using remote means, at a time of choice is a more recent phenomenon. For example, Skywalker X-8 drone has been spotted by Kurdish forces since 2015. It is understood that a modified Skywalker X-8 (drone borne improvised explosive device or DBIED-End note 2), white in colour, crashed at approximately 1200 hours on 2 October 2016, about 30 to 40 metres from the Peshmerga trench in the Mosul Dam area. Because the drone was light (approx. 2 kg), it was assumed that it was not booby-trapped. It exploded soon thereafter, resulting in the death of two Peshmerga soldiers and wounding of two French paratroopers. The burns they endured were probably due to the detonation of Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil explosive (ANFO), and from the melted expanded polyolefin (EPO) material of the UAV body generated by the heat of the explosion {1}. The explosion of the UAV created a small crater (approximately 15-20 cm in diameter) on the ground where the victims were standing. Since then, the Isis has frequently used weaponised Drones to carry out attacks. The type of Drones are commercially available Chinese mini hobby UAVs with ranges upwards of 7km and payloads of up to 40kg {2}.
As per a report by Bard College, UK, the Drone use by extremists has increased exponentially in 2017. Drones are being used in conflict zones like, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Philippines. In fact, the ISIS has a well organised system for its Drone operations, it is understood that the US had targeted the leaders of the ISIS Drone program during airstrikes in 2017 {3}. The easy availability of cheap drones in the hands of the extremists has also raised the spectre of the extremists carrying out a spectacular attack using a large number of drones akin to a swarm attack by locusts.
Counter UAS – cUAS [End note 3]
The use of consumer drones by Militant groups; for battlefield reconnaissance, dropping small bombs/IEDs, propaganda footage for recruitment videos, acts of terrorism, flying drones into the flight path of commercial airliners, swarming, or creating fear in the minds of public by other acts etc; has accelerated the developments of Counter UAS technologies in major countries.
Western Countries. Whereas the militaries today are conscious that in case of a drone swarm attack it may not be feasible to destroy or take under control of all the attackers it may be a better idea to have a calibrated and a multi layered approach to the problem. This may include both the kinetic and the electronic warfare options. The threat from small UAVs operated by extremist lone wolves are also being looked at with concern. Some of the efforts at tackling drones by the US include applicability of the British Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS), which integrates Blighter’s A400 series Ku-band electronic scanning air security radar; Chess Dynamics’ stabilized electro-optic director, infrared and daylight cameras, and target tracking software; and an Enterprise directional radio frequency (RF) inhibitor to detect, track, classify, disrupt, and defeat UAVs up to a range of six miles {4}. The US Army is utilising multiple equipment to deal with the drone threat. For example; US Army has announced a $65 million contract to SRC Inc. New York, to develop, build, and maintain the low slow small unmanned aerial system integrated defeat system; it has also awarded Leonardo DRS, USA a contract of $16 million to develop a counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) capability to protect soldiers from enemy drones; and it has purchased the “Dronebuster,” which is a 5-pound radar gun-like device that soldiers can use to jam weaponized commercial drones.
Drone Defence of UK uses Dedrone DroneTracker to detect and identify unauthorized UAVs, then utilises either the man-portable Dynopis E1000MP to jam the UAV or its Net Gun X1 C-UAV system to capture the aircraft. Operating from either a fixed location or as a mobile unit, DroneTracker uses acoustic, optical, and infrared sensors for real-time detection and identification.
Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse, France, has developed a cUAV System combining the company’s radars, IR cameras, and direction finders with state-of-the-art data fusion and signals analysis. The system can identify an approaching drone and assess its threat potential at ranges between 5km and 10km, then offer electronic countermeasures like its Smart Responsive Jamming Technology, to minimize the risk of collateral damage.
Russia. The first Russian permanent tactical unit to combat unmanned aircraft has been positioned around Kursk {5}. It is equipped with R-330KMK Zhitel or “Resident” automated radio interference systems. These systems are understood to be able to detect and jam radio signals and interfere with UAV mission systems up to a radius of 30km. “Zhitel” (R-330Zh) system consists of two elements: a wheeled platform with an operator station for the reconnaissance system (0.1-2GHz frequency range) and a trailer with emitters and antennas of the active jamming system. The system’s purpose is to detect, track and jam the Inmarsat and Iridium satellite communications and GSM 1900 cell phones, and also to act against GSM navigation system utilizing the NAVSTAR satellites. “Zhitel” may be operated autonomously or it may, alternatively, be remotely controlled by the R-330KMK station. Its range has been defined as 15 kilometres in case of the ground-system jamming and 200 kilometres, with regards to the airborne platforms.
Israel. At the Singapore Air show in February 2016, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) revealed the Drone Guard, its new system for drone detection, identification and flight disruption. ELTA, a subsidiary of IAI, offers 3D radars and Electro-Optical (EO) sensors for detection and identification, as well as dedicated Electronic Attack (EA) jamming systems for disrupting drone flight {6}.
China. China’s Ministry of National Defense released images of the new cUAS on 28 Nov 2017. The cUAS is a container based, road mobile short-range air defence system. As per UAS Vision {7} ; the detection and jamming vehicle is equipped with roof mounted radar, electronic jamming system, and a small electro-optical (EO) ball turret. The other vehicle has a roof mounted laser emitter, a tracker (EO and thermal), and a laser range-finder on a stabilized elevatable and rotatable platform. SZMID High Technology Co. Ltd of China, has offered a new cUAS against illegal intrusion, which claims that it can disrupt the navigation of an unmanned aircraft, forcing it to land or return to base {8}.
Attack by Rebels on Russian Bases in Syria using Drone Swarm
“As for these attacks, they were undoubtedly prepared well. We know when and where these unmanned vehicles were handed over [to the attackers], and how many of them there were. These aerial vehicles were disguised – I would like to stress that – as homemade. But it is obvious that some high-tech equipment was used, {9}”
Vladimir Putin
On 6th Jan 2018 rebels in Syria launched a Swarm attack using drone borne IEDs. The attack involved using more than a dozen of weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles on Russia’s Khmeimim airbase and a Russian navy supply base in Tartus. Khmeimim or Hmeimim Air Base, is a Syrian airbase is located south-east of the city of Latakia in Hmeimim. It is being operated by Russia under a 2015 treaty with Syria. The airfield facilities of Bassel Al-Assad International Airport are utilised by the Khmeimim Air Base. The Russian naval facility at the Syrian port city of Tartus is a leased facility. It is used as a minor repairs and logistic supply base by the Russian Navy.
It is understood that 13 drones were used in the attacks, seven were shot down using Pantsir-S1 system and six were force landed using electronic warfare {10} . The Pantsir-S1 is an anti-missile and anti-aircraft system which has a combined missile/gun for automatically engaging up to 4 targets simultaneously. However, using an anti-aircraft/anti-missile system to bring down ISD modified COTS drones is a very expensive way to neutralise the drone swarms, and militaries are looking for cheaper solutions and measures for the same {11}.
The bombs attached to the captured drones were recovered and had “semi-transparent casings, white plastic fins, and a thick metal hook to attach them underwing.” The bomb’s explosive payload consisted of metal ball bearings epoxied to an explosive core and placed in a mortar bomb-like aerodynamic shell {12} . It is understood that Russians were able to track down the militant launch site after decoding the data recorded on the UAVs and kill the militants responsible for the swarm attack.
The swarm attack by rebels has caught the world by surprise mainly because of the complexities involved in controlling and directing a large number of drones to designated target tens of kilometres away. That the rebels have been able to modify the commercial drones to carry explosives as well as procure rudimentary software to carry out a coordinated attack has shaken the Russians and Americans alike. The possibility of such attacks in near future on non-military targets and urban areas cannot be ruled out.

“The incident itself, while it wasn’t necessarily a spectacular attack by terrorist standards, it certainly portends a very dark future.”
Colin Clarke, RAND
Chinese Drones
A look at China’s ingress into the global drone market is required at this juncture since China is making sophisticated and inexpensive drones that are beginning to dominate the global military and civil markets. The emphasis in this section is on drones which could be easily acquired for exploitation by extremists or rogue regimes.
Military drones. Chinese drones have been purchased by many countries including allies of the US. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have purchased Wing Loongs, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Myanmar operate CH-3. Nigeria uses CH-3 against Boko Haram. Saudi Arabia and the UAE utilise CH-4s and Wing Loongs against Houthi in Yemen {13} . Iraq has got CH-4s. Jordan and Egypt have also bought Chinese drones. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the manufacturers of CH-4 UAV, have already set up production factories in Pakistan, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia {14}.
The bigger combat UAVs come under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) but China is not a signatory to the same and can therefore proliferate its military drones.
Commercial Drones. China’s DJI is a company that has risen to one of the top manufacturers in the commercial drone market. DJI is famous for its Phantom and Mavic Pro drones. It represents 50 percent of market across all price categories {15} . DJI’s rise in the consumer drone market has been due to its ability to innovate and produce feature rich drones. DJI also reduces its prices periodically forcing other manufacturers, at times, out of the market.
The commercial drones are far cheaper and easily available in the open market, further, there is no current binding or international law against sale of commercial drones and therefore it is very lucrative for the extremists to buy and modify them to suit their objectives.
China’s Swarm technology
“Our swarming drone technology is the top in the world,”
Zhang Dengzhou of CETC, China
For years, the U.S. appeared to have a clear lead when it came to swarming drones. In 2015, the Advanced Robotic Systems Engineering Laboratory (ARSENL) of USA, had claimed a world record by launching a swarm of 50 drones. However, at the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) bettered that record with a swarm of 67 drones flying together {16}. The drone used was Skywalker X6s, made by the Skywalker Technology Co. of China. Skywalker drones are popular because they’re cheap, readily-available, and easy to customize. ISIS has adapted Skywalker drones to carry bombs {17}. At the Zhuhai 2016 Air show, the SW-6 was showcased, it is a small drone with folding wings which can be dropped from a mother aircraft. Its stated role is reconnaissance, but it is also a good candidate for China’s drone “swarm” project.
Chinese Micro Killer Drones
There are a number of combat drones or CUAVs developed by China but of interest and likely application in swarm warfare include the CH-802 and CH-803. These drones have been developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
CH-802. It is a fixed wing micro air vehicle (MAV) with elevated high-wing configuration and V-tail. It is hand launchable. It has a cylindrical fuselage and a two-blade propeller driven by an electric motor. It has a payload capacity of 1 kg and a range of 30 km.
CH-803. It is a fixed-wing UAV with a cylindrical fuselage propelled by two-blade propeller driven by engine mounted in the nose. It is launched by catapult and recovered by a parachute. It has a range of 30 km and a payload capacity of 3.5 kg.
The Future
The drone and drone swarms in the arsenal of the extremists are going to be here for a long time to come. The drones are going to carry more and more harmful weapons like the chemical sprays or the biological viruses. They will be deployed against the state & civil infrastructure as well as personnel. The targeting and guidance is going to be better and better in tandem with the advances in commercial sector. Better speed, obstacle avoidance, longer range, night operability and payload capacities etc. are going to be the norm in near future.
India, as of today, appears to be deficient in effective cUAS/anti-DBIED defensive measures. Major nations across the globe have already strengthened their capabilities in this field while pursuing Unmanned technologies. It is true that as of now such attacks by extremists have more of a propaganda value than a debilitating one. However, considering the capabilities which can be easily transferred by our adversaries to the terrorists under the current trade regimes, and without any fear of international repercussion, the feasibility of a multitude of attacks upon diverse targets launched from across the borders by non-state actors should not be ruled out. India could capitalise on innovative use of artificial intelligence, AI in collating information leading to purchase of drones, their modification, purchase of civil explosives & chemicals, flight pattern of drones etc to augment the EW and kinetic options of cUAS.
It is imperative that India should put in place an AI based robust kinetic and EW counter drone program at the earliest for protection of the military as well as civil areas of interest to the terrorists.

Endnotes:

1.Drones and UAVs are considered to be synonymous references.

2. DBIED (Drone-borne improvised explosive device) – is a drone attached to a bomb fabricated in an improvised manner incorporating destructive, lethal, noxious, pyrotechnic, or incendiary chemicals and designed to destroy or incapacitate personnel or vehicles.

3. A UAS is an all-encompassing description that encapsulates the aircraft or UAV, the ground-based controller, and the system of communications connecting the two.

References

[1] The Use of Weaponised UAVs by the Islamic State: Analysis of DBIED Incident on Peshmerga Forces in the Mosul Dam Area on 2 October 2016. A Report by Sahan Research Ltd London circulated on 29th December 2016. http://sahan-eu.stackstaging.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Sahan-Research-Report-1st-Investigation-of-an-ISIS-Weaponised-Drone-29xii2016.pdf (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[2] Charles Clover and Emily Feng. Isis use of hobby drones as weapons tests Chinese makers. Financial Times. 11 December 2017. https://www.ft.com/content/82a29f96-c9e7-11e7-ab18-7a9fb7d6163e (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[3] Drone Year in Review: 2017. Center for the Study of the Drone, Bard College, 3 January 2018. http://dronecenter.bard.edu/drone-year-in-review-2017/ (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[4] J.R. Wilson. The dawn of counter-drone technologies. Military & Aerospace. 1 November 2016. http://www.militaryaerospace.com/articles/print/volume-27/issue-11/special-report/the-dawn-of-counter-drone-technologies.html (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[5] Philip Butterworth-Hayes. Russia forms first battlefield tactical counter-UAV unit Kursk. Unmanned Airspace. 01 November 2017. http://www.unmannedairspace.info/counter-uas-systems-and-policies/russia-forms-first-battlefield-tactical-counter-uav-unit-kursk/ (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[6] IAI Unveils “Drone Guard”: Drone Detection and Disruption Counter UAV Systems. Israel Defense. 18 February 2016. http://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/content/iai-unveils-drone-guard-drone-detection-and-disruption-counter-uav-systems (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[7] China Test-Fires New Laser-Based C-UAS. UAS Vision. 30 Nov 2017. https://www.uasvision.com/2017/11/30/china-test-fires-new-laser-based-c-uas/#24TYFbwDTJLE1El6.99 (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[8] Dylan Malyasov. Chinese defence company offers new counter-UAV system. 22, Sep 2017.  http://defence-blog.com/news/chinese-defence-company-offers-new-counter-uav-system.html (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[9] Putin slams drone attack on Russian base in Syria as provocation. Russian Politics & Diplomacy January 11, 20:01. http://tass.com/politics/984721 (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[10] Kyle Mizokami. Russian Bases in Syria Attacked with Black Market Drones. Popular Mechanics. 12 Jan 2018. http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a15062767/russian-bases-in-syria-attacked-with-black-market-drones/ (accessed 20 Jan 2018)

[11]Marcus Weisgerber.  Air Force Buys Mysterious Israeli Weapon to Kill ISIS Drones. Defence One.23 Feb 2017. http://www.defenseone.com/business/2017/02/air-force-buys-mysterious-israeli-weapon-kill-isis-drones/135620/ (accessed 20 Jan 2018)

[12] 10 Ibid.

[13] Ben Brimelow. Chinese drones may soon swarm the market – and that could be very bad for the US. Business Insider. 17 Nov 2017. https://www.businessinsider.in/Chinese-drones-may-soon-swarm-the-market-and-that-could-be-very-bad-for-the-US/articleshow/61687119.cms  (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[14] Minnie Chan. Chinese drone factory in Saudi Arabia first in Middle East. South China Morning Post.26 Mar 2017.http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2081869/chinese-drone-factory-saudi-arabia-first-middle-east (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[15] April Glaser. DJI is running away with the drone market. Recode. 14 April 2017. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:tLjIuXb8JLUJ:https://www.recode.net/2017/4/14/14690576/drone-market-share-growth-charts-dji-forecast+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=in (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[16] David Hambling. If Drone Swarms Are the Future, China May Be Winning. Popular Mechanics. Dec 23, 2016. http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/research/a24494/chinese-drones-swarms/ (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[17] 16 ibid.

Evolution and Role of Naval UAVs

(Published in special edition of Economic Times, India on 04 Dec 2017)

Earliest mention of a drone/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the Naval context is found in 1917, when the US Navy commissioned the design of an ‘aerial torpedo’ for use against German U-boats. A contract was awarded to the Curtiss Aeroplane Company, and the airplane was named the Speed-Scout. It was designed to be launched from naval ships carrying a 1,000-lb. payload and to be stabilized by an autopilot. It suffered several failures before it achieved its first successful flight on 06 March 1918, making it the first flight of an UAV. On 15 April 1923, the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) specially equipped F5L seaplane was controlled by radio signals up to a range of 10 miles from the transmitter. The NRL also reported that radio control of take-off and landing of aircraft was possible. Project Fox, equipped with a television camera, was developed by The Naval Aircraft Factory in 1941. It was controlled by TG-2 aircraft and successfully carried out torpedo attack on a destroyer in 1942.

McDonnell Aircraft developed a radio-controlled target drone TD2D-1 in 1942 for anti-aircraft and aerial gunnery practice of U.S. Navy. TD2D was gyro-stabilized, radio-controlled and could be recovered by parachute. The Ryan Firebee was a 23-feet long target drone, which could fly at over 700 miles per hour on a pre-programmed flight path. It could be recovered mid-air by a C-130 Hercules with a capture net, or parachute into the sea for recovery. A modified Firebee with cameras called a ‘Lightning Bug’ could fly over a target area and take aerial pictures, it carried out over 3,000 reconnaissance missions in Vietnam. The drones have been tested on carriers, and have flown in combat, the TDR-1s launched from the USS Sable in 1943, and the Firebees took off from the USS Ranger from 1969 to 1970.

The Gyrodyne model QH-50D was a remotely controlled UAV which was built and delivered to the U.S. Navy as the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH). The QH-50D was a rotary-winged, anti-submarine weapon carrier designed primarily to deliver two MK44 acoustic homing torpedoes or a Mk 17 Nuclear depth charge using the W-44 warhead and also had a provision for a ‘classified weapon’.

The maritime UAV serves in national security, paramilitary and wartime missions. It expands the user’s horizons by providing Over The Horizon Targeting (OTHT). In addition, it increases the scanning area, time over target and the mission flexibility. It also serves in real time battle damage assessment. During peacetime, it prevents the penetration of any sea borne hostile intruder, protects the country’s rights and interests in the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and supports in Search and Rescue operations. In war-time it assists in achieving naval superiority, helps in destruction of enemy naval forces, defends the coast lines, and supports ground operations (littoral warfare). The role of the Maritime UAV system is to provide unmanned, long endurance aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. In addition, the UAV can create a comprehensive, real time, naval tactical picture for the ship’s commander and naval HQs.

A typical Maritime UAV System consists of at least three aircraft, with ground control system (GCS), Launch & Retrieval Station (LRS), Ground Data Terminal (GDT), Launch & Retrieval Data Terminal (LRDT), and mission oriented Payloads. A typical Payload consists of a Maritime Patrol Radar (MPR) with multi-mode functions, an Electro-Optical sensor with day/night capabilities, and an optional ELINT package. The payload package provides the necessary data for detection, classification, and identification of surface vessels at sea. Having a line of sight data link package provides a system range of 250 km and an air data relay extends the patrolling distance to 350 km.

The launching of UAVs from warships presents less of a challenge than recovery. UAVs can be launched through a variety of catapult options, including rocket-assisted take-off (RATO) as used by the US Navy for embarked Pioneer UAV operations. The IN operates the Lakshya unmanned aerial target system that uses boosters to launch without any ground run. Recovery of UAVs is more problematic than their launch. Vertical landing UAVs can be recovered using manual remote piloting to a conventional vertical landing, or by automatic landing systems such as the US UAV common automatic recovery system (UCARS). Fixed wing UAVs are presently recovered by more extreme methods, such as by flying it into a recovery net, by stopping the motor and ditching it into the water by parachute for a manual recovery, or by mid-air recovery using a manned helicopter or aircraft.

The IN currently operates the Heron and the Searcher MK II UAVs manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries. These are capable of beaming real time live pictures of maritime targets to Commands ashore, thus enhancing the joint defence capability by synergizing capabilities of the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and local authorities. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) has initiated a request to the US for procuring 22 multi-mission Guardian UAVs for the Indian Navy. A RFI has also been issued for 50 ‘Naval Ship-Borne Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ (NSUAS) for Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR), monitoring of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), Exclusive Economic Zone safety, anti-piracy, and anti-terrorism functions along with Search and Rescue (S&R) roles. The MoD, is also considering procurement of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs for use by the three defense services.

For the near future, the US Navy is progressing ahead with procurement of The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAS (BAMS UAS), the Vertical Take-off and Landing UAV (VTUAV) Fire Scout MQ-8B unmanned helicopter, and The Small Tactical UAS (STUAS), RQ-21 Blackjack. The indigenous AURA and Rustom (& its variants) are being developed by DRDO for the Indian Armed Forces.

The question that the Indian Navy faces today is, whether it is ready to go for development of fully autonomous unmanned systems, which would be cable of engaging a target and inflicting lethal damage on their own? Is the Indian Navy willing to develop technologies that empower the vehicle with embedded artificial intelligence to make the final decision to launch weapons at the target independent of any human intervention? If yes, then there is a need for the Indian Navy to look in to:

– technologies and software formulations which would permit an unmanned vehicle to launch itself, proceed to learn acoustic/magnetic/electromagnetic signatures, and identify the target on its own.

– technologies, which are more environmental friendly, for e.g. the use of green plastics of the poly hexahydrotriazines or PHTs category, and green electrical power including its storage for long endurance operations.

– a resilient architecture that can act as a redundant pathway to atmospheric communications through electromagnetic domains including digital communications utilizing fibre domain.

– Distributed manufacturing to enable efficient use of resources, with less wasted capacity in centralized factories, and develop 3D printing of circuit boards and other integrated electronic components.

– cognitive testing aspects of software for unmanned vehicles today to fruitfully operate autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.

– exploring technologies for developing new types of weapons for use in the autonomous vehicles.

– focusing on the technology developments in the commercial sector, especially in the software, and the artificial intelligence sectors. As it appears, the only option is to synergize with the commercial sector to ensure that UAVs become a force multiplier in the next decade.

74. Weaponised Unmanned Vehicles in the Indian Navy: Technology Outlook

(Published IndraStra Global   May 22, 2016 )

In the Navy unmanned vehicles constitute four types of vehicles which operate in aerial, surface-land, surface-sea and underwater environments. Even though more glamorous terms like ‘autonomous vehicles’ are used to describe them, in reality, all these vehicles fall in the category of remotely controlled/piloted robotic vehicles. However, it is also true that in most of these categories, higher and higher degree of autonomous functioning can be built-in with the available technology.

The question that arises before the Indian Navy is whether it is ready to go for development of autonomous unmanned systems, which would be cable of engaging a target and inflicting lethal damage on their own? Is the Indian Navy willing to develop technologies that empower the vehicle with embedded artificial intelligence to make the final decision to launch weapons at the target independent of any human intervention?

It may be worthwhile to look at some innovative technologies, which are going to have a profound effect upon weaponised unmanned vehicles of tomorrow.

Cutting-Edge Artificial Intelligence (AI):

Whereas artificial intelligence would enable an unmanned vehicle to perceive and respond to its changing environment, the cutting edge AI would enable the unmanned vehicle to learn automatically by assimilating large volumes of environmental and tactical information. There is a need for the Indian Navy to look in to technologies and software formulations which  would permit an unmanned vehicle, for example, to launch itself, proceed to learn acoustic, magnetic or electromagnetic signatures and identify the target on its own (as distinct from current weapons like mines, torpedoes and missiles which have a tested and tried inbuilt code). The need to pursue technologies that would enable it to go a step further by taking a decision to launch its weapons could be looked at  in future.

Profound/ Deep Learning in respect of Unmanned Vehicles:

There is a definite need to look into Profound or / Deep learning technological issues since for most of the areas of their operations, unmanned vehicles would be required to accumulate vast amounts of data/ intelligence inputs from the surroundings, process it and upload it to systems for decision making by humans. Fundamentally, advanced algorithms need to be developed for unmanned vehicles through which the vehicle on its own can differentiate changes from the normal that need to be highlighted for predicting a future course of events by the analysts. Since Unmanned underwater vehicles would operational for periods extending over months at a time,one area of importance could be to make the vehicle unlearn (specific areas it has self-written the codes for), since it occupies memory space or it may no longer remain relevant.

Green Technologies for Unmanned Vehicles:

As the Unmanned systems race to achieve higher and higher levels of autonomous operations, there is a need to look into technologies, which would make unmanned vehicles more environmental friendly, like the use of green plastics of the poly hexahydrotriazines or PHTs category, which provide the same strength but are biodegradable. Similar advances need to be explored for providing the unmanned vehicles with green electrical power and its storage for long endurance operations.  Neuromorphic Technology.  Neuromorphic chips are designed to process information by mimicking human brain’s architecture resulting in massive computing and processing power. These combine data storage and data processing components in same interconnected modules thus providing power as well as energy efficiency.

Communications Pathways:

Satellites are not the only pathway for reliable communications, be it for data, voice, or command & control. There is a requirement for a resilient architecture that can act as a redundant pathway to atmospheric communications (including underwater) through electromagnetic domains including digital communications utilizing fiber domain. Fiber carries far larger bandwidth than what can be carried through the satellite systems. Multiple pathways would provide greater safety and protection to the cyber networks. Technologies need to be developed, to make the network physically resilient to deal with High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP), and to make the network react by itself to tampering by external actors.

Additive Manufacturing Technology:

Distributed manufacturing enables efficient use of resources, with less wasted capacity in centralized factories. It also reduces the amount of capital required to build the first prototypes and products. Further, it limits the overall environmental impact of manufacturing since digital information is transferred over the internet with local sourcing of raw materials. However, Additive manufacturing poses a potentially disruptive challenge to conventional processes and supply chains. Its nascent applications in aerospace sectors need to be developed for the unmanned systems across the Naval unmanned requirement. There is a need to examine and develop 3D printing of circuit boards and other integrated electronic components. Currently, Nano scale component integration into 3D printing is a formidable challenge for this technology. Taking a step further, adaptive-additive technologies (4D printing) would be ushering in products that would be responsive to the natural environment (like temperature and humidity) around them.

Test and evaluations of Unmanned Systems:

Test and evaluation of collaborative (Humans and robotic) systems is a big technological leap that needs to be addressed at the earliest. As of now, there is no software, which can test a collaborative system both physically, and intellectually, once an unmanned system has been tasked to learn on its own, it should have the capability to convey the extent of its learning as it progresses in its knowledge acquisition process. Navy needs to delve into cognitive testing aspects of software for unmanned vehicles today to fruitfully operate autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.

Disruptive Unmanned Warfare:

Autonomous vehicles have ushered in a paradigm shift from the few big, expensive, and lethal weapons to large numbers of small, cheap, and smart unmanned systems capable of swarming the adversary. The unmanned vehicles today can carry significant amounts of weapons utilizing new designs of weapons with nano materials. The Navy needs to explore technologies for developing new types of weapons for use in the autonomous vehicles.

Finally, the Indian Navy has to focus in the coming years on the technology developments in the commercial sector which have outpaced the developments in the military; especially in the software; and the artificial intelligence sector. It has to seek ways and means to synergize the commercial sector developments such that it can become a force multiplier ushering in the next RMA.

 

Hybrid warfare-The Naval Dimension

(Published IndraStra Global 01 Jan 2017, http://www.indrastra.com/2017/01/FEATURED-Hybrid-Warfare-Naval-Dimension-003-01-2017-0002.html)

 It is so damn complex. If you ever think you have the solution to this, you’re wrong, and you’re dangerous. You have to keep listening and thinking and being critical and self-critical.

Colonel H.R. McMaster, 2006

In his monograph, Strategic Implications of Hybrid War: A Theory of Victory[1],Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lasica posits that hybrid force actors attempt to combine internal tactical success and information effects regarding enemy mistakes through the deliberate exploitation of the cognitive and moral domains. In this manner, he describes hybrid warfare simultaneously as a strategy and a tactic because of the blending of conventional, unconventional, criminal, cyber and terrorist means & methods. A hybrid force is thus able to compress the levels of war and thereby accelerate tempo at both the strategic and tactical levels in a method faster than a more conventional actor is able to do. In this theoretical model, the hybrid actor will always gain a perceived strategic advantage over the conventional actor regardless of tactical results. David Sadowski and Jeff Becker, in their article “Beyond the “Hybrid Threat: Asserting the Essential Unity of Warfare,[2]” assert, that the idea of simply seeing hybrid warfare as a combination of threat categories or capabilities fails to appreciate the complexity of the hybrid approach to warfare. Rather, they argue that the essential aspect of hybrid warfare is the underlying unity of cognitive and material approaches in generating effects. Such a unity of cognitive and material domains allows for flexibility in a strategic context in which social “rules” can be redefined in an iterative process to the hybrid’s advantage in terms of legality and military norms.

Majors Mculloh and  Johnson in their monograph ‘Hybrid warfare’[3] have said that hybrid war may be best summarized as a form of warfare in which one of the combatants bases its optimized force structure on the combination of all available resources—both conventional and unconventional—in a unique cultural context to produce specific, synergistic effects against a conventionally-based opponent.

 Don’t ever forget what you’re built to do. We are built to solve military problems with violence.

– A Former Brigade Commander in Op Iraqi Freedom

Therefore, it will not be wrong to say that Hybrid warfare in naval context is a violent conflict utilizing a complex and adaptive organization of regular and irregular forces, means, and behavior across a predominantly maritime domain among others to achieve a synergistic effect, which seeks to exhaust a superior military force.

Alternatively, put simply, it is naval irregular warfare plus cyber war and any other component that emerges in future. CIA has succinctly brought out the contrasting dimensions of Modern versus Irregular warfare in the following table:

Contrasting Dimensions of War[4]
Modern Irregular
Organized Informal
Advanced technology At-hand technology
Logistics-dependent Logistics-independent
National direction Local direction
Coherent doctrine Ad hoc doctrine
Decisive battle Raids and skirmishes
Soldier Warrior
Allies Accomplices
Segregation Integration

Littoral areas and cities in vicinity of the coast could be important sites of future conflict, and both have characteristics that make them more complex than the high seas, and hinterland. Adversaries will increasingly exploit these complex environments to degrade technological advantages of regular forces. Given the close proximity of many cities to the coast as well as abundance of unmanned coastal areas, maritime hybrid is a distinct possibility requiring active involvement of the Navy and the Coast guard. In case of a maritime hybrid war the normal components of the Navy would continue to play an important part in the littorals and in open seas for interdiction of adversary’s irregular assets like floating armories and mercenary flotillas.

Maritime forces are often utilized primarily in support of ground operations, but it is seen that; in environments with a maritime component; maritime operations tend to have a noticeable comparative advantage over land-based operations in terms of mobility, freedom of maneuver, and the ability to impose a smaller or less visible footprint on land. The maritime forces could easily choke supplies through the sea route to reach adversary, protect own maritime trade and fishing in the area, provide logistic and fire support to forces on land from the sea, close escape routes and so on. One important point is that vital external maritime support can be conveniently obtained from friendly nations at sea for ISR, communications and fighting cyber war. The supporting ships could be operating as close as just 12 miles off the coast or hundreds of mile in open seas without violating any regulations.

Now it would be appropriate to look at a few of the salient features of 26 Nov 2008 Mumbai attack as relevant to subject at hand. The Mumbai attack has been analyzed in great depth by various agencies (for e.g. Rand’s ‘Characterizing and Exploring the Implications of Maritime Irregular Warfare’[5] and ‘The Lessons of Mumbai[6]’) and individuals, therefore an attempt is being made here to highlight the main findings of some of these studies. In addition to the meticulous planning, reconnaissance, likely pre-positioning of weapons & ammunition, the major innovation on the part of the terrorists was the real-time exploitation of the international media. Each of the terrorists carried a BlackBerry smart phone to monitor CNN and BBC Internet coverage of the attack in real time. They then immediately adjusted their tactics to increase the amount of media coverage that the attacks would receive. It is believed that the major efforts made by the terrorists to kill U.S. and British civilians were part of the plan to garner more international press coverage.

The case of the LeT attacks in Mumbai illustrates the advantages that could accrue to an adversary from a maritime approach to a target. A maritime approach allows operatives to avoid border crossings and airport security, it offers opportunities to hijack a local vessel so that attackers can blend in with the normal local coastal traffic, and offers terrorist teams extra time for pre-attack planning as well as extra time for rest just before the attack commences. Finally, a maritime insertion allows terrorists to select very precise landing sites and infiltration routes.

The case of the LeT attacks in Mumbai also illustrates the disadvantages that can accrue to a terrorist enemy from a maritime approach to a target. First, once a full blown, large-scale assault has started, it can be very difficult to extricate the operatives. Second, the transport of large explosives aboard fishing vessels and trawlers is risky; thus, maritime terrorist strikes might be limited to relying on small arms to do their damage. Third, some kind of reconnaissance cell would have to be sent to the target city well in advance of the attack, providing an opportunity for a skilled intelligence agency to mount surveillance on the reconnaissance cell and break up the plot before the assault team could embark. Moreover, a maritime approach does not allow the terrorist team to disperse until it lands ashore. Even if the operatives approach in two or three different small boats, the interception of just one of the boats could drastically reduce the team’s numbers and effectiveness.

The fact remains that despite low technological instrumentation, a non state/state sponsored actor coming from open sea, could carry out effective surveillance & reconnaissance regarding the characteristics of targets at land/sea that could be attacked in future. Maritime Hybrid War may graduate to pose bigger economic threat than a military one. Furthermore, these economic costs could be imposed with relatively minor investments from the adversary.

What is worrisome is that now the Hybrid threat can emerge from anywhere in the vast oceans; be it floating armories, mercenary flotillas, or innocuous vessels carrying legitimate cargo with an embedded cyber war-waging cell. The maritime hybrid threat has to be interdicted using Naval and marine assets preferably before it reaches the shores and synergizes with other elements into a full-scale hybrid war. Even though the Indian Government has strived to put in place a very robust MDA there are intelligence gaps, which remain among the various agencies involved which could lead to slipping in of threatening elements physically or otherwise.

“The categories of warfare are blurring and do not fit into neat, tidy boxes. We can expect to see more tools and tactics of destruction — from the sophisticated to the simple — being employed simultaneously in hybrid and more complex forms of warfare.”

Professor Colin Gray

Cyber War

A word about the maritime dimension of cyber war would be proper at this stage. In recent years, there has been considerable discussion of the phenomenon of cyber warfare, its methods, and its ramifications. In essence there are three objectives that can be achieved by cyber-offensive activities: espionage (infiltrating the target’s information storage systems and stealing information), denial of service attacks (preventing Internet usage), and sabotage (infiltrating systems reliant on Internet connections and causing functional damage via malevolent programs). The media largely focuses on the use of computer programs as weapons in the cyber domain, but an attack on Internet infrastructure especially the submarine optical fiber cables is no less an option for terrorists, and often more devastating and effective. In fact, thousands of miles of more than 200 international submarine cable systems carry an estimated 99% of all the world’s trans-oceanic internet and data traffic. Widespread disruption to undersea communications networks could sabotage in excess of $10 trillion in daily international financial transactions, as stated by Michael Sechrist in a 2012 paper ‘New Threats, Old Technology Vulnerabilities in Undersea Communications Cable Network Management Systems[7]’ published by the Harvard Kennedy School. It is pertinent to note that satellites carry just about 5% of global communication traffic.

Even partial damage has extensive consequences because of the resultant jamming of traffic on the limited remaining connection. It is true that the diplomatic and military effects of having Internet communication with world at-large cut off would not be significant, but the direct and indirect economic consequences could be extremely expensive to our economy, especially with the transfer of much data to online cloud services that are actually placed abroad.

What bigger Hybrid threat can be posed at sea than the cutting off the subsea internet cables at time, place, and depths of one’s choosing or cutting off undersea facilities like VLF communication nodes and hydrophones? Would it not be an example of extreme denial of service weapon? Incidentally, such capabilities do exist with some nations today.

Two other aspects of hybrid war, which merit immediate attention of the maritime forces, are onslaught of sensors and swarm warfare.

Sensors

One very important aspect of the Hybrid warfare is transparency in every field because f utilization of various types of sensors. This ubiquitous sensing revolution promises enhanced awareness of physical, social, and cyber environments by combining three technological trends: the proliferation of ever cheaper and more capable sensors into virtually every device and context; large data aggregation and ready access to it using vast cloud-based archives; and cross-spectral data fusion & sense-making algorithms running on increasingly powerful processors. All of these trends are accelerating, at exponential rates. For instance, as brought by Capt John Litherland, USN (ret), in his paper ‘Fighting in the Open: The Impact of Ubiquitous Sensors on the Future Maritime Battle space’[8]:

-The worldwide total number of sensors has increased tremendously and will pass the one trillion mark, or more than 100 sensors for every person on earth.

– Mass production of electronics has led to significant enhancements in Sensing capabilities. Every smart phone today has a complete inertial, electronic and satellite navigation system comprising just a minor component of its price. Incidentally, a smart phone today hosts of many  of the sensors such as, accelerometer, temperature, gravity, gyroscope, light, linear acceleration, magnetic field, orientation, pressure, proximity, relative humidity, rotation vector and temperature[9].

-The worldwide digital data generation rate now exceeds one ZB (1021 bytes) per year and global storage exceeds 10 ZB.

-The ability to fuse and make sense of unstructured data from disparate sensors and incommensurable formats is being addressed by use of advances in processing capability and data handling algorithms.

-The advent of sensors has however, made the battle space transparent. Today, the warfare has to adapt to this transparency and let go traditional concepts of concealment and camouflage. Stealth technologies are unable to cope up with concealing signatures of the multitude of sensors being used across various domains, be it in the air, on the surface or under water. Navies today can no longer spring a surprise on the adversary because it is not feasible to operate blind in a battlefield littered with multi-spectral sensors, dispersed spatially, and operating in broadband.

The Indian Navy (IN) has to prepare for this aspect of hybrid warfare. The Indian Navy could utilize some of the concepts out lined by Litherland in his paper quoted above[10] :

– Dispersal – IN forces must disperse over as much of the maritime battle space as possible.

– Deception – IN must strategize on targeting the adversary’s sensor complex across multiple spectra with noise, false targets, and cyber attacks.

– Range – IN must gainfully implement Net Work Centric warfare to bestow ‘crippling effects’ at large distances when dispersed.

– Speed – together with range, the speed at which kinetic and non-kinetic effects can be imposed on the adversary will also be a critical factor in Naval war.

Unless the Indian Navy starts preparing now to fight in the Age of Sensors, it risks becoming vulnerable in the event of a hybrid war.

Swarms

Seminal work has been done on Swarm warfare by Prof. John Arquilla  and David Ronfeldt in their various writings (Swarming and Future of Conflict[11], Countering and exploiting Swarms[12], etc.) the present section derives from their thought processes. Swarm warfare has become the dominant doctrinal concept of certain navies like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, which has about fifty missile and torpedo boats, along with other light coastal craft, all of which train to employ ‘ESBA’ i.e. like a swarm of bees tactics. The IRGC Navy also has several bases on small islands in the Persian Gulf, from which they can “swarm by fire” with the Chinese missiles in their inventory. China’s PLA Navy regularly practices swarm tactics with its missile, torpedo, and gunboats.

For the Indian Navy, comprised as it is of a number of high-value vessels, swarms pose a considerable and rising threat. Swarm attacks are likely not only from small boats, but also from aircraft, submarines, and drones. At present, the author is unaware of any fitting response by the Indian Navy focused on the use of counter-swarms of drones, and robots. The Indian Navy should also consider responses; as suggested by Prof  Prof. John Arquilla[13];  by designing swarms of much smaller craft like large numbers of jet-ski-sized drones or autonomous weapons whose goal would be to seek out and destroy incoming swarms with rockets, or by ramming and self-detonating. Small and swift Weapons could pose a far superior swarming threat to hybrid adversaries. IN could also think of small undersea swarming systems which are already on the design board to meet demands of clearing minefields, engaging enemy submarines, and carrying out ISR missions. Similarly, small aerial swarm weapon systems could prove exceptionally useful in dealing with air defense of carrier strike groups.

Conclusion

So ‘ere’s to you fuzzy-wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan; You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen, but a first class fightin’ man. 

Rudyard Kipling

Starting with the fundamental definition of Hybrid war in maritime context as “Naval irregular warfare plus cyber war and any other component that emerges in future”, the implications of cyber, sensors, and swarm warfare have been discussed in this article. However, new types of hybrid threats would keep surfacing and the IN has to be ready for them when called upon to counter them.

Hybrid war, being inherently nebulous and dynamic in nature, calls for constantly adapting naval doctrines and technologies to meet the emerging maritime hybrid threats.

(Based upon a talk ‘Maritime and Air Dimensions of Hybrid War’ delivered by the author during ‘National Seminar: Hybrid Warfare’ on 02 Nov 2016 under aegis of Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)

[1] https://www.scribd.com/document/40211290/Strategic-Implications-of-Hybrid-War-a-Theory-of-Victory

[2] smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/344-sadowski-etal.pdf

[3] http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA591803

[4]https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/96unclass/iregular.htm

[5] http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1127.html

[6] https://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/2009/RAND_OP249.pdf

[7] http://ecir.mit.edu/images/stories/sechrist-dp-2012-03-march-5-2012-final.pdf

[8] http://www.secnav.navy.mil/innovation/HTML_Pages/2015/07/FightingInTheOpen.htm

[9] https://www.quora.com/how-many-different-sensors-are-available-inside-a-smartphone

[10]http://www.secnav.navy.mil/innovation/HTML_Pages/2015/07/FightingInTheOpen.htm

[11] http://www.rand.org/pubs/documented_briefings/DB311.html

[12]http://www.secnav.navy.mil/innovation/HTML_Pages/2015/04/CounteringAndExploitingSwarms.htm

[13] ibid

New Dimensions of Swarm Warfare

 

(Published 15 Jul 2016,CLAWS)

 

“They were coming at us like bees”. “We would kill one lot and then more would appear. It was the most amazing thing.”

Lt Col Twitty, Commander 3rd Battalion 15th Infantry, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq, 2003

 

Swarms in nature have always intrigued humans because individually the animals or the insects do not appear to have intelligence but in a swarm, they are able to move as a cohesive intelligent formation capable of taking actions befitting an intelligent life form. Some of the world’s largest swarms in animal kingdom include mosquitoes, Argentine Ants, Christmas Island Crabs, krill, springbok, and locusts. Peter Miller, in Swarm Theory[1] brings out that swarm intelligence works because of ‘simple creatures following simple rules, each one acting on local information’ and also that, a smart swarm is a group of individuals who respond to one another and to their environment in uncertainty, complexity, and change.

The use of swarms in warfare has been observed for over 2000 years, some examples include:

– Battle of Alexandria Eschate, 329 BC Scythians – mounted Archers,

– Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC Parthians – mounted Archers

– Battle of Khambula, 1879 Zulus – Dismounted light infantry armed with spears

– Battle of Britain, 1940 – Air Battle of Sept 15, 1940 British single-seat Spitfire and Hurricane fighter Aircraft

– Battles for Objectives Moe, Larry, and Curley, Baghdad, Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003 Iraqi and Syrian light infantry

Swarming has also been looked in to by US Military institutes in academic studies and war games. RAND has studies by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, ‘Swarming and the Future of Conflict’, 2000; Sean J.A. Edwards, ‘Swarming on the Battlefield: Past, Present, and Future’, 2000; and Sean J.A. Edwards, ‘Swarming and the Future of Warfare’, 2005. In the last document, the author has opined that:

swarming occurs when several units conduct a convergent attack on a target from multiple axes. It involves pulsing where units rapidly converge on a target, attack it, and then disappear.

– swarming is of  two types, one where units arrive on a battlefield as a single mass, disassemble, and attack the enemy from many directions, and the second, where the dispersed units converge and attack without forming a single mass.

– five variables are essential for a swarm attack to be successful these are, superior situational awareness, elusiveness, standoff capability, encirclement, and simultaneity.

A new approach to achieve coordination amongst a system of large number of simple robots has emerged during biological studies of swarms in nature as well as during applications of Artificial Intelligence in to mechanical swarms it is called ‘Swarm Robotics’. Ant robots are swarm robots that communicate via trail of markings, for example, heat, odor, light, chemical substances,   and transceivers.

Microbots is a generic term applicable to very small robots spanning robots of sizes from, small robots (<100 cm), minirobots (<10 cm), milirobots (< 1 cm), microbots (<1 mm) to nanobots (<one micrometer).

Some important projects in robotic swarms include:

– Symbiotic Evolutionary Robot Organisms, ‘Symbrion’[2]. This project is funded by the European Commission. It is inspired by the biological world. Its aim is to develop a framework in which a homogeneous swarm of miniature interdependent robots can co-assemble into a larger robotic organism for problem solving. It has its roots in previous two projects called I-SWARM and SWARMROBOT.

– 3D printing of microbots[3]. Engineers at Harvard have developed an ingenious layered folding 3D printing process by which it is feasible to mass-produce robotic insects. The size is <2.5 cm in diameter and <0.25 cm in height. Many such pop up microbots can be printed from a single sheet.

– Kilobot[4] (Self-organizing thousand-robot swarm). Another project undertaken by engineers at Harvard aims at providing a simple platform for enactment of complex behaviors using 1024 small robots or Kilobots. It has been heralded as a stepping-stone in development of collective artificial intelligence.

All of the above projects and many more on similar lines have been funded by military R&D agencies including DARPA. All have military applications as is evident from the fact that the U.S. Military is looking at incorporating roles for swarms in its transformation programs[5]. These swarms of intelligent UGVs, UAVs, and UUVs are intended to sense, recognize, and adapt to the changing situation. The sensor networks will be self-aware, self-healing, and self-defending.

In October 2015, US Army tested swarms of commercial off the shelf drones for applications in the military. Barry Hatchett of the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation stated, “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.”[6]

In a landmark trial, this year the US Navy’s Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program aims to have thirty drones flying together without having to be individually controlled, maintaining separation safely like a bird swarm. The operator would be piloting the whole swarm as a single unit instead of controlling individual UAVs. The trial would have far-reaching impact upon future of swarm warfare in the US armed forces.

The day is not far when the battlefield would graduate from ISR microbot swarms to weaponised microbot swarms carrying new age explosives delivered ingeniously into the enemies heart. The technology would leap frog to provide counter swarms as also counter-counter swarms. The era of the small and many appears to be dawning on the battlefield.

“I need a stealth bomber that’s going to get close, and then it’s going to drop a whole bunch of smalls – some are decoys, some are jammers, some are [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] looking for where the SAMs are. Some of them are kamikaze airplanes that are going to kamikaze into those SAMs, and they’re cheap. You have maybe 100 or 1,000 surface-to-air missiles, but we’re going to hit you with 10,000 smalls, not 10,000 MQ-9s. That’s why we want smalls.”[7]

Colonel Travis Burdine, USAF

 

[1] http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/07/swarms/miller-text/1

[2] http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/85478_en.html

[3] https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2012/02/new-mass-production-technique-robotic-insects-spring-life

[4] http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2014/08/self-organizing-thousand-robot-swarm

[5] US Army’s future unit of action UA, US Navy’s After Next, and US Air force’s Global Strike Force programs.

[6] http://www.computerworld.com/article/2999890/robotics/us-army-tests-swarms-of-drones-in-major-exercise.html

[7]http://www.businessinsider.com/air-force-wants-swarms-of-small-kamikaze-drones-to-defeat-missiles-2016-5?IR=T