Breaking Integrated Air Defence with Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarms

Developing and Testing the US Employment Concept

By Mr

By Mr



, US

Joint Hypersonic Strike, Planning, Execution, Command and Control Joint Test

 June 2016


As technology improves, so does the capacity to expand defensive perimeters to ever increasing ranges both horizontally and vertically. This enables an adversary to keep friendly advanced systems outside his sphere of influence, or more specifically, to deny access to specific areas of operation. In the current vernacular, this is called an Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2/AD) environment which has, as its backbone, advanced Integrated Air Defence Systems (IADS). Identifying ways to penetrate this perimeter with air assets and capabilities that do not require ever more expensive solutions is imperative for any nation’s or alliance’s air force, and thus demands creative use of current and emerging advanced technologies.

Attacking adversary air defence with ‘layered’ offensive capabilities including manned aircraft armed with kinetic or non-kinetic payloads has been done for some time. One example is from the opening minutes of Operation Desert Storm (1991) when a joint US Army-Air Force helicopter team (Task Force Normandy) penetrated Iraqi IADS. After US Air Force (USAF) helicopters (PAVE LOW III) delivered Electronic Attack (EA), blinding Iraqi early warning radars, US Army helicopters (APACHE) subsequently destroyed the radars with kinetic strikes. Resulting gaps in the Iraqi IADS permitted USAF follow-on air strikes on high-value targets deep inside the country.1

Similarly, in the future, advanced Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) equipped with Electronic Warfare (EW) payloads could lead a subsequent wave of attacking aircraft to enter and counter a potential adversary’s A2 /AD environment.

US Concept Evolution – Employing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarms

While emerging EW payload testing on UAS is occurring, mating Electronic Attack (EA) payloads onto a coordinated semi- or fully-autonomous swarm of smaller unmanned aircraft (UA) is still an emergent test environment effort. However, once such capabilities mature, employing them will require a foundational concept be in place. To address such a foundational approach, the Joint Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Swarming Integration (JUSI) Quick Reaction Test (QRT) was established under the US Director of Operational Test and Evaluation’s Joint Test and Evaluation Program in July 2015. It is co-located with US Pacific Command’s J8 Resources and Assessment Directorate, at Camp H.M. Smith, Oahu, Hawaii.

The JUSI QRT will develop, test, and validate a Concept of Employment (CONEMP) for the integration and synchronization of swarming UA performing EA in support of the joint force against an advanced IADS. The JUSI QRT effort is focused on a 2015 – 2020 timeframe to research and identify previous and ongoing swarm-related efforts while building a swarming UA community of interest, concurrent with CONEMP development.

Advanced Integrated Air Defences and How to Address Them – The Problem

Modern Surface-To-Air Missile (SAM) systems are an integral part of advanced IADS. These IADS are, in turn, integral parts of a potential adversary’s networked A2/AD environment. For the purpose of the JUSI QRT effort, IADS refers to a networked system of adversary capabilities (e.g., a series of detection and tracking radars coupled with SAMs) and not to one specific platform (i.e., an IADS on a warship by itself or a specific individual SAM such as an SA-20).

The US joint force is currently over-reliant on Standoff Weapons (SOW) and fourth / fifth generation strike platforms to address the A2/AD challenge. UA swarms represent a potential additional approach, complementing existing platforms and weapons systems. Despite rapid technical advances in UA swarming development and demonstrations, the US joint force lacks a CONEMP for UA swarm effects delivery, in particular with regard to operations against adversary advanced IADS protecting potential targets with SAM arrays. The lack of a CONEMP or other supporting documentation hinders requirements development and A2/AD countering as well as precluding integration and synchronization with the rest of the joint force.

The Approach – Addressing the Problem

Combat capable and survivable UA with the capability to perform swarming functions are a new but quickly growing aspect of modern warfare. The JUSI QRT will take the first step with its CONEMP to enable a joint force of other weapons and platforms (i.e., various types of SOWs, decoys, jammers, and fourth / fifth generation platforms) support to counter an adversary IADS in an A2/AD environment. With the short lifespan of the JUSI QRT – one year – the effort will focus on CONEMP development supported by a series of modelling and simulation (M&S) runs over the course of three test events.

Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory’s (JHU / APL) experienced M&S personnel will support each of the test events enabling the QRT to collect data for the equivalent of hundreds of swarm flights. Their help will provide a cost saving aspect concurrent with data analysis to support CONEMP development. JHU / APL will provide M&S and analysis of the execution of UA with EA payloads against scenarios developed to test the UA’s ability to deliver desired effects against an advanced IADS as part of an A2/AD environment.

The resulting qualitative and empirical data will enable the JUSI QRT Team to assess findings, conclusions, and recommendations to revise the CONEMP between each test event starting with JUSI QRT’s first test event, which wrapped up 20 November 2015 and the last test, which ends in late May 2016. Additionally, upon completion of each test event, a Joint Warfighter Advisory Group (JWAG) will be convened to receive test event results – the first JUSI QRT JWAG occurred in December 2015 and the last JWAG will occur in June 2016. As the QRT process continues, it will lead to development of a finalized swarming UA CONEMP to provide the link to requirements development and capability integration for the joint force to have a distributed approach to complement existing solutions focusing on fourth / fifth generation strike platforms and SOW.

The Way Ahead

At the end of the JUSI QRT, the resulting CONEMP will provide an effective operational context to inform requirements development, roadmaps, and eventually, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) in several areas, including communication, automation, UA, and EA to deliver intended effects. The CONEMP will also serve to help focus future Department of Defense and industry investment. Future considerations related to swarming UA with EA payloads may include development, testing, and validation of TTP for UA with EA payloads. Such TTP would further reinforce the use of swarming UA by empowering the commander to develop standards in the areas of manning, equipping, training, and planning in the joint force. In the interim, the JUSI QRT developed CONEMP will provide planners, trainers, and their supporters with a starting point for employment of this capability.

The author would like to thank Lieutenant Colonel Matthew ‘Bulldog’ Nicholson, Andrew ‘Wooly’ Wolcott, Don Murvin, Brendan ‘K-PED’ Pederson, and Brock Schmalzel for their guidance and feedback during the writing of this article.

Martin, Jerome V. Lt Col, USAF, ‘Victory from Above: Air Power Theory and the Conduct of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm’, Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL, Jun. 1994.
Palermo, Elizabeth, ‘Fairy-Tale-Inspired “Gremlin Drones” Could Spy in Swarms’,, 2 Sep. 2015,, accessed 7 Oct. 2015.
‘Miniature Air Launched Decoy – Disrupting Enemy Air Defense Sytems’, online at, accessed 25 May 2016.
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Joint Hypersonic Strike, Planning, Execution, Command and Control Joint Test

Mr F. Patrick ‘Spam’ Filbert is a Test Planner for the J-HyperSPEC2 JT at Nellis AFB, NV. He has supported three previous Office of the Secretary of Defense Joint Test (Distributed Air Operations Center planning, swarming UAS, counter-UAS) efforts. He holds a History degree from the University of Hawaii and a Master’s of Strategic Intelligence with Honors from American Military University. In 2019 he received his Intelligence Fundamentals Professional Certification. Commissioned an Armor Officer and transitioned to Military Intelligence he served 24 years retiring as a Major. Post-military career includes Senior Intelligence Analyst (547 & 526 Intelligence Squadrons), Intelligence Contract Team Lead (432 Wing Operations Center), and Project Manager, USINDOPACOM J2 Socio-Cultural Intelligence Dynamic Analysis effort.

Information provided is current as of February 2022

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