With kamikaze-style drones, the advantages are ‘huge,’ but so are the headaches, top Marines say

A US Marine launches a Switchblade drone throughout an train at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, September 2, 2020.US Marine Corps/Cpl. Jennessa Davey

  • Fighting in Ukraine and different current conflicts have demonstrated the utility of loitering munitions.

  • The US Marine Corps is pursuing these munitions in an effort to make its items lighter and extra succesful.

  • The Corps can be searching for methods to defend its items from these munitions.

“Kamikaze” drones like those being utilized in Ukraine supply troops on the bottom main benefits, US Marine Corps leaders say, however the Corps remains to be determining the right way to defend Marines from these weapons.

The capability of those drones, generally known as loitering munitions, to linger over the battlefield offers Marines extra flexibility, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger informed an viewers on the Modern Day Marine expo in Washington, DC.

Traditional mortars and artillery methods are restricted to ballistic trajectories — “it fires, it descends, all predictable, all on a pre-positioned target,” Berger mentioned.

The benefit of a weapon that may be deployed “all the way down to the squad level,” be launched by Marines from a mortar tube or from one other car, after which “loiter for 40, 45 minutes” earlier than being directed to a goal or discovering the goal itself “is huge,” Berger mentioned.

Those munitions might be launched earlier than a goal’s “precise location” is understood and the loiter time “gives you so much flexibility to engage either targets that are concealed or targets that are moving,” Berger mentioned.

A Marine with a Switchblade drone

A US Marine prepares a Switchblade drone for launch throughout an train at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, July 7, 2021.US Marine Corps/Pfc. Sarah Pysher

Loitering munitions are a high-profile a part of US military aid to Ukraine. As of May 10, the US had offered practically 1,000 of them: 700 Switchblade drones and 121 Phoenix Ghost drones.

The US has been sending Ukraine the Switchblade 300, a lighter mannequin designed for anti-personnel missions. The US Defense Department remains to be working to acquire the Switchblade 600, a heavier-duty variant designed for armored targets.

Little is understood in regards to the Phoenix Ghost, however it’s “akin” to the Switchblade, in accordance with chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, who mentioned in April that it will possibly “be used to give you a sight picture of what it’s seeing, of course, but its principal focus is attack.”

Both drones have began arriving in Ukraine, and the Switchblade is already seeing action.

Loitering munitions had been put to related use within the battle between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020. Footage confirmed Azeri forces using foreign-made drones to find and attack armored autos, artillery, and troops.

Swarms of such drones are “a low-cost, low-risk way” to assist Ukraine mount efficient assaults on Russian artillery and missile batteries, Benjamin Jensen, a senior fellow on the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in March.

Armenia Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

An Azerbaijani Defense Ministry photograph reveals Azeri forces destroying an Armenian anti-aircraft system, September 27, 2020.Azerbaijan Defense Ministry through AP

US Marines have employed loitering munitions for a while. The Switchblade was utilized by Marines in Afghanistan a decade ago to assault small targets, resembling insurgents inserting bombs. More just lately, the service has sought loitering munitions that may be launched from autos or by particular person Marines.

A current replace on the Corps’ Force Design 2030 — which envisions a lighter, extra cell Corps that may deploy small items for dispersed operations — notes that distributing loitering munitions “within our small units provide[s] the close-combat lethality enhancements long-envisioned by infantry Marines.”

Those weapons can have a demoralizing impact on opponents, Berger mentioned.

“From an infantry ground guy perspective, it’s incredibly frustrating to know that there’s a loitering munition up above your head. There’s a psychological impact,” Berger mentioned Tuesday. “You don’t know whether it’s got a camera system or a lethal warhead on it, but it has an impact on the adversary.”

But the Corps remains to be grappling with the right way to defend its personal troops from that menace.

One means to take action is decreasing Marines’ “vulnerability to being detected” with camouflage, concealment, or deception, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Watson, commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s Futures Directorate, informed reporters through the expo.

Marine drone UAS MADIS

Marines mount a sensor on a Marine air protection built-in system car someplace in Southwest Asia, April 22, 2019.US Marine Corps/Cpl. Alina Thackray

There are “two ways to go” if detected, Watson mentioned: “How do you either counter the system directly … or how do you keep the system from hitting you if it does in fact sense you.”

The Corps is working “material and non-material solutions” to the drone menace as part of a broader effort to enhance its air- and missile-defenses, Maj. Gen. Eric Austin, director of the Corps’ Capabilities Development Directorate, mentioned at a press occasion.

“In some cases, it’s cover and concealment. In other cases, it’s material solutions,” such because the vehicle-mounted Marine Air Defense Integrated System, Austin mentioned.

The Corps and different service branches have put particular emphasis on countering small unmanned aerial methods, which have already been used against US troops and for which present defenses are not well suited.

“You do not wish to be launching Patriots against small UAS, proper? That’s cost-imposing the improper means,” Austin mentioned.

The Corps is “pretty good” at detecting drones “for the most part,” Austin informed reporters Tuesday, “but the defeat mechanisms are challenging because there’s kinetic and non-kinetic defeat mechanisms.”

“There’s really novel concepts coming out,” Austin added, “but again, it’s really complex when you think about setting the counter-small UAS capability in someone else’s sovereign territory or in the continental US. There’s a lot of policy implications here.”

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