A Comprehensive Approach to
Countering Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Part II – Military Perspectives
Force Protection Considerations
By Wing Commander (ret.) Jez Parkinson, UK AF, JAPCC
The subject of Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-UAS) has become what can best be described as a ‘hot-topic’ not just for NATO, but globally. From a Force Protection (FP) perspective, it is offered, the primary question to explore is whether this challenge is new and unique or just one of many threats that NATO faces? As such, can it at least be partially addressed with some intellectual effort, adaptation of existing Counter-Threat methodologies and the use of existing technology, perhaps in a noveli way?
The current perception that UAS are a ‘new’ threat that requires a bespoke approach should be challenged; who is driving current thinking and why? Are UAS actually something different or, are they just the logical employment by our adversaries of increasingly accessible technology? Current FP Policy, Doctrine and Directives remain fit-for-purpose, as do the FP Estimate and FP Planning processes; all that is required is the inclusion of UAS as another one of many considerations. With the application of intellectual effort to better understand the threat in all its constituent parts, it is offered that it will be realised that existing practices, procedures and technology can be employed to counter most, if not all aspects of the UAS threat. Furthermore, there are ‘multiple defeat vectors’ and not unlike C-IED thinking, the UAS platform (or ‘drone’) is but one part of a system-of-systems, all aspects of which have the potential to be neutralised (e.g. the platform, the operator and the broader adversary network can all be targeted either individually or simultaneously). There is undoubtedly a role for the use of new or emerging technologies, but this requires careful consideration mainly because each new technology comes with an inherent training and maintenance burden. The challenge today is not the lack of capability, but the inability to actually employ it. In a crisis situation, with the necessary legal framework in place as a result of robust planning, forces should have the necessary space to manoeuvre and the freedom to act. However, this is not the case for the protection of the Homebase in peacetime. There is a compelling argument that the operation of UAS needs to be better regulated. However, the question of why there is apparent resistance to this approach needs to be further examined, particularly the role of the media. The FP Practitioner when considering perceived new threats, must not lose sight of existing, accepted threats. Finally, to successfully neutralise any UAS threat will require inter-agency co-operation; what might be described in NATO vocabulary as ‘a Comprehensive Approach’.
This issue is not only a challenge for the Air Component; the UAS threat can affect any or all Components. Furthermore, UAS can either be remotely operated or autonomous (i.e. once launched, the vehicle functions without further input from an operator). This said, even autonomous platforms will have a human within the system at some point (e.g. launch and possible recovery). Also, the level of autonomy of any platform will be a function of the level of technology available and the ingenuity of the operator to use even simple technology to best effect.
The focus of this Section is the conceptual (Force Protection) challenge of C-UAS at the Operational Level. It will not provide doctrinal guidance, specific recommendations on Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) or, recommend specific equipment that can be employed at the Tactical Level. It is acknowledged that platform capability (payload, speed, detectability, range, level of autonomy, responsiveness, etc.) is variable and in some cases inter-related and these factors will no doubt be considered by our adversaries when ‘attack’ planning. Technology will continue to develop and the intelligent adversary will always seek to exploit technology to their advantage, therefore, our own thinking needs to remain ahead of that of our adversaries when and wherever possible.
To provide a baseline for thinking across a broad customer base. This study offers a foundation for the delivery of capability and as a result, attempt to capture and subsequently shape thinking across as many of the NATO Capability Development, Lines of Development (LoD)ii as possible. While the reader may perceive that this thinking is air-centric, the principles offered are applicable to all components.
Recognizing that it is not just UAS that present challenges to the FP practitioner, but Unmanned Systems in all domains, this Section will focus on Air Systems. Countering contemporary threats, to include but not limited to UAS, will require both a Comprehensive and Multi-Domain approach. This Section does not seek to describe the nature of NATO’s Comprehensive approach to operations nor the complex issue that is the emerging concept of Multi-Domain operations. However, what is offered, is that countering UAS will require a multi-agency approach (so not just the military) and, irrespective of where a threat system is operating, all agencies will be required to cooperate and will likely need to operate in more than one domain simultaneously. The age-old problem of information sharing will no doubt persist, but to create effective C-UAS strategies, inter-agency and inter-state cooperation will be necessary. This factor should lead directly to a significant conclusion – that the Command, Control and Synchronisation (and/or deconfliction) of FP activities, as well as the ability to communicate effectively, often rapidly, across many involved parties, remains an essential enabling capability for effective and resource-efficient provision of FP effects, to include the neutralisation of the UAS threat.
This Section does not seek to explore in detail what drives NATO’s capability requirements. What is worthy of consideration though is ‘who’ can drive the capability requirement? This subtlety is raised because it should be understood that there can be perceived benefit to the individual(s) who brings a challenge to the forefront. This perceived benefit can take the form of kudos, advancement in rank or shaping a future employment opportunity. These individuals are often described as ‘Thought Leaders’. The second ‘who’ is perhaps more obvious – industry. Industry benefits from being able to develop and manufacture solutions that meet identified capability requirements. Having described C-UAS above as a ‘hot-topic’, careful consideration needs to be given to who is driving the apparent problem set and for what purpose?
New Threats – New Countermeasures
As an extension of the above, the identification (or perception) of a new threat should not immediately mean that entirely new counter-measures will be needed, as much as perhaps industry would like this to be the case. It will often be the case that existing equipment, processes and practices can be adapted to counter the ‘new’ threat. Equally, even if a new capability requirement is identified, it will take time to deliver and therefore, adapting what is currently available will always be necessary in the short to medium term. A key component to countering any threat has to be the intellectual rigour that is applied to properly understanding that threat in the first place and then how it might subsequently evolve over time and space.
Measures of Effectiveness
A challenge that plagues the FP Practitioner is that of Measures of Effectiveness (MoE). In its simplest form, has a particular FP Measure or indeed an entire FP Posture been effective? Has the adversary been deterred or, simply chosen not to attack? Equally, over the last 20+ years, the inclination has developed that any attack must owe its occurrence, at least in part, to a failure in FP.
Following from the above, the reality of the contemporary operating environment is such that it is inevitable that adversaries will, on occasion, be successful. These apparent successes when considered after the fact, could well be deemed to have been preventable. However, with the level of understanding available prior to the event, FP measures could still be considered appropriate. The current threat paradigm, to include UAS, requires the application of tried and tested FP measures, the subtle adaptation of these measures and where necessary, the development of new approaches. The increasing capability of platforms, their enormous cost and their declining numbers means that the loss of such assets (including their operators, maintainers and supporting structures) would inflict real harm on a nation or indeed the Alliance. In turn, this means that they present an emerging vulnerability which an adversary will undoubtedly seek to exploit. For the FP Practitioner, arguing for a return to ‘old’ concepts such as dispersal, concealment and hardening will be necessary. Equally, the availability of resources debate cannot be ignored. This should take two distinct forms. Firstly, the requirement for robust FP forces. Second, the need to have sufficient resources, particularly in terms of enablers to allow the capability to be operated in a warfighting manner rather than in a manner directed by ‘just-in-time’ logistics or engineering expediency. Clearly, a balance is required, but the current lack of attention to the FP of high-value, low-density and yet incredibly fragile assets is concerning.
The location of assets to be protected is important from a C-UAS standpoint. C-UAS activity at the tactical level, will necessarily be driven by the location of the asset to be protected. Hence, if the FP Practitioner is included during planning, they can influence the selection of the optimal location, which will help in simplifying the C-UAS task. Furthermore, in addressing the concept that the UAS should be treated as just another threat system, many of the factors that simplify the C-UAS task will also simplify broader counter-threat activity. As an example, complex, densely populated urban terrain in close proximity to the operating location provides a far greater FP challenge than does a sparsely populated, open agricultural landscape.
Homebase versus Deployed Operations
The Freedom of Action (FoA) allowed for the military FP community for the protection of the Homebase in peacetime is likely to be limited. It is often the case that they are not permitted to operate outside of the perimeter and any activity will be confined to responding only once a threat has been detected. In addition, any response is likely to be extremely limited due to legal considerations. In the case of deployed operations, the possibility to influence the selection of the operating location exists. Furthermore, the challenges of legal inflexibility at the Homebase may be overcome, at least to some extent, through early and robust engagement in the process that develops Status of Forces Agreements, Technical Agreements, Memoranda of Understanding, Rules of Engagement, etc. Perhaps a way to visualise this area is as a sliding-scale where friendly forces FoA to C-UAS increases as adversary action increases and the constraints on FoA are reduced, because the operating environment is becoming less permissive.
C-UAS in Free Space
There are many potential constraints on the ability of the FP Practitioner to counter the threat from UAS. However, if a hypothetical scenario were created where none of the real-world constraints were present, it is likely that it could quickly be identified that the challenge is not the ability of FP to defeat UAS, but rather, the externally imposed constraints on FP that create the difficulty (not to say that constraints imposed are not in place for entirely valid reasons). By first thinking of how best to C-UAS without any externally imposed constraints, a spectrum of capabilities emerges that would undoubtedly mitigate against the majority of the threats. However, a perhaps unpalatable aspect of this discussion is to acknowledge, from the outset, that there are situations where an adversary will be successful. Equally, there can be no reference manual that will provide a written guide to C-UAS in all circumstances; documentation (Doctrine) can only provide a guide or hand-rail. That said, by considering how each of the ‘Force Protection Functional Competencies’iii or ‘Elements of Air Force Protection’iv can be employed in C-UAS, a significant number of options emerge, many of which require neither legal authority to employ nor substantial additional resources. This includes but is not limited to, use of cover, dispersal and concealment. Other more active and/or kinetic options also exist, if permitted. The key takeaway here is that effective and resource-efficient C-UAS activity has two primary drivers. First, the ability of the FP Practitioner to employ existing capability in an emerging role. Second, understanding the Operating Environment, particularly its constraints, to identify what measures could be employed, if permitted. It is then a case for the Chain of Command to work to either remove those constraints, accept the risk or, to terminate the at-risk activity.
Broad statements that a threat exists are often made. For a threat to exist any adversary has to have both a capability and the intent to use that capability. However, above this sits the fundamental question of what is it that an adversary is actually seeking to achieve (what, why, when, where, how, etc.)? By gaining an understanding of the answers to these questions, the FP Practitioner can start to identify how any threat or, threat system, can be defeated.
Like the range of possible systems available to an adversary, the range of adversaries is also considerable. Any individual using a UAS can cause a major incident, intentionally or otherwise. The naiveté of the general public in relation to matters of security and safety should never be underestimated. The spectrum of ‘Threat Actors’ covers the range from lone-actor misuse, right through to deliberate state use. However, irrespective of who might be employing a system deemed to be a threat, many if not all of the available countermeasures can be employed. As already mentioned, the primary limiting factor will usually be the legal framework within which any FP/Security force is required to operate. Note that it is likely that in the case of any deliberate, nefarious use of UAS, the system user will likely be aware of the legal framework in place, but will simply ignore it. Of significance, is a potential adversary’s ability to access and subsequently use technology.
Understanding the origins of any threat system provides both insight into the possible scale of the threat and how it might be defeated (i.e. if you know where something comes from, then its supply can be interdicted). Also, the more technologically advanced and hence potentially more capable a system is, the greater the likelihood is that it will pose a substantive threat. The more complex a system, the higher the possible cost. Equally, the more complex a system, the higher the intellect of the adversary will need to be in order to use it effectively. These aspects of understanding the adversary and/or their systems could facilitate the targeting of likely individuals and possible operating locations associated with these systems. Understanding and where possible, exploiting the technology that is being used against us, will help guide thinking on both, what priority countering the threat needs to be given (in comparison to other threats) as well as providing an insight into who is operating it. Ultimately, if UAS are viewed as just another threat, understanding important elements of its operations like: where it comes from, who is using it, for what purpose, how it is being operated (adversary TTPs), etc. will all be significant pieces of information to assist friendly forces in neutralising the threat. Unsurprisingly, the conclusion can be drawn that intelligence will play a vital part in any ability to C-UAS.
NATO has created a taxonomy for UAS (cf. Annex A, p. 510 f.). It is offered that the primary challenge comes from systems at the lower end of the spectrum, as these are both harder to detect and (if authorised) engage. When considering the threat, it is perhaps worth noting that the Indirect Fire (IDF) threat from the ubiquitous 107 mm rocket, familiar to many FP Practitioners, was from a projectile that weighed 18.84 kg (41.5 lbs); similar to the weight of an Unmanned System at the lower end of the ‘Small’ category (20 kg). Likewise, the 122 mm rocket weighs-in at 66.6 kg (147 lbs). In other words, even in the ‘Small’ Category UAS have characteristics that existing technology can detect, track and if necessary/authorised engage. Therefore, the challenge exists primarily across the ‘Nano’ to ‘Mini Categoriesv where further useful deductions can be made:
Proximity. The UAS threat of specific concern to the FP Practitioner is likely to originate within the NATO assets Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR)vi (e.g. the operator and the system will be present in the TAOR).
Operating Height. Operating altitudes will fall within the surface to 3,000 ft range for UAS. At the lower end of this spectrum, terrain or infrastructure will present an operating challenge whilst the higher a UAS flies, the more readily it will ‘unmask’ to detection systems (i.e. they will not be able to hide amongst ground clutter).
Position. Understanding how any threat system functions and its potential use(s) will translate into how it needs to be operated. By understanding how a system must be used, will lead to the identification of locations that it can be employed fromvii. These locations can then be prioritised for denial.
Endurance/Range. Smaller UAS will have limited endurance, however, increased endurance can be achieved, but often at the expense of reduced payload (and vice-versa).
Payload. Traditionally, smaller UAS have limited payloads. Remaining with the IDF analogy, an 18.84 kg (41.5 lbs) 107 mm rocket only carried a warhead of 1.7 kg (2.9 lbs) (see ‘Weapon Effects’ below). Similarly, the ability of platforms to carry a sizeable payload will decrease, as the size of the system decreases. The deduction from this is that an intelligent adversary will most likely use smaller UAS primarily as intelligence-gathering assets, although in reality, the potential use of any platform is only limited by an adversary’s imagination and subsequent access to the necessary technology.
Effects. The matter of ‘payload’ (above) should remain a separate consideration from ‘effect’. Specifically, a small system with limited payload could still have a significant effect, if deployed against the likes of an unprotected 5th generation platform. Equally, the perception that an UAS could be deployed by an adversary as a means of delivering a Chemical, Biological or Radiological (CBR) payload could have a huge non-kinetic (psychological) impact. This effect will be irrespective of the technical feasibility and/or actual effects of any such weapon; a Weapon of Mass Effect rather than a Weapon of Mass Destruction.
- Kinetic. Linked to ‘Payload’, there needs to be a basic understanding of weapons effects. Most of the use of weaponised UAS by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) consisted of dropping low-payload projectiles similar in size to a hand grenade. While adversaries have become adept at increasing the effectiveness of their IEDs through the addition of shrapnel (e.g. ball bearings), the ability to add shrapnel (because of weight) on an air-vehicle is significantly reduced.
- Non-Kinetic. The presence or potential presence in the battlespace of UAS will have an effect, irrespective of whether any system is actually weaponised. It should also not be discounted that kinetic effects can have an associated non-kinetic effect,
e.g. on the morale of personnel.
A 2016 video clip aired on many major news outlets showed an Iraqi Army tank being attacked by an ISIS weaponised UAS. It is offered that this was a lucky strike where the weapon fell inside the vehicle but, importantly, the vehicle in question was operating in an urban environment and the crew should have been operating closed-down in order to prevent a hand grenade, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or even a cruder ‘Molotov Cocktail’ (firebomb) being used on the vehicle from above. Therefore, whilst the weapon that destroyed the vehicle was dropped from a UAS, it could have come from multiple other sources. The actual cause of the event was poor crew discipline resulting in a failure to implement basic TTPs for operating armoured vehicles in close terrain. Sensationalist reporting followed by multiple rebroadcasts with increasingly ill-informed comments together with a subsequent failure to properly analyze the cause and effect have led to false conclusions being drawn. Had the weapon (improvised or otherwise) not fallen through an open vehicle hatch, the effects would have been negligible as distance from any blast and shielding be it in the form of armour or infrastructure, reduces blast effects.
Larger System – Basic Considerations
As a system increases in size, it can be considered to also be increasing in capability. It will have greater range, longer endurance, be more robust and able to carry a greater payload. From the adversary perspective, this might be considered a positive. Although, obtaining a larger, more capable system comes with its own logistical challenges which could, in turn lead to a greater ‘footprint’ that could be of intelligence value to friendly forces. However, for the FP Practitioner, a larger system in use will also be more likely to be detected and engaged.
UAS can be remotely-operated, fully pre-programmed or have the ability to self-navigate having first been given navigational waypoints. Whilst full autonomy is possible, for the FP Practitioner the fact remains that, if an UAS threat exists, it has at least two tangible and therefore targetable elements; first is the vehicle itself and second, the user.viii Much has been made of the potential future use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and whilst the marrying of AI with UAS adds yet further complexity, the fact remains that there are still identifiable and subsequently targetable elements within the system.
A potential adversary tactic that requires specific consideration with respect to adversary use of UAS is that of the use of so-called ‘swarms’. The attacks on Russian Military facilities in Syria, widely reported in December 2017 and January 2018, highlighted this tactic. Whilst this alleged employment of multiple systems could be used as an argument to advance the perspective that ‘new’ threats evolve quickly both in quantity and possibly quality, an alternative narrative could be advanced. Firstly, and specific to the example above, the ability to confirm the validity of reports in the media is limited in the unclassified domain. Second, and of more importance to the FP Practitioner, what element of a so-called swarm attack should cause consternation? The reality is that any threat can present itself at a scale that will be difficult to defeat (e.g. an attack by a significant number of adversary personnel supported by sustained mortar fire). Timely and accurate analysis of the threat should lead to both the correct FP resources and the quantity of each resource being identified.
In developing approaches to mitigate a threat, thought should always be given to how that threat may evolve. If this approach is ignored, it is likely that an intelligent and adaptable adversary will quickly render any counter-measure impotent. As stated elsewhere, consideration also needs to be given to the concept of second-order effects and/or unintended consequences. What other effects could a counter-measure have (e.g. interference with other electronic systems). The C-IED fight provides a valuable lesson in this respect, where the deployment of supposedly improved protected mobility only drove the adversary to produce larger and more devastating IEDs. Key aspects for consideration by the FP
Planner are: what will be the impact of effectively neutralising or even defeating a particular threat? What will the adversary conceive next and could it be either more difficult to counter or indeed more effective? An often-overlooked approach is to tolerate or accept one threat, in order to delay or prevent an alternatively more dangerous one from materialising.
Uneducated Use of Unmanned Systems
Particularly in the case of the Homebase, not all UAS encountered will be used with nefarious intent. An aspect that has received little attention is the general ignorance of the populace at large to the risks to flight safety posed by unthinking use of UAS in the proximity of air operations, both military and civilian. This is compounded by the growing belief amongst many that it is their right to know everything that in turn, leads a few to believe that they have a right to use UAS to gain insight into what ‘the state’ and in this case the military, might be doing ‘inside the wire’.ix
The reason that media use of UAS has been considered as a stand-alone issue is because this particular area could be problematic for the military. Whilst legal matters are discussed elsewhere, media use of an UAS, even if deemed illegal, is still likely to be described (by the media themselves) as being in the public interest. Furthermore, the information or footage gained during such use is likely to be widely broadcast and could, depending on the media outlet, come with a degree of apparent legitimacy.x The FP response to any detected use of an UAS in the vicinity of any asset will need to be carefully considered in order to prevent any potential Strategic Communications ‘own goal’. Also worthy of consideration is that in discussion with FP Practitioners, there is a perception that some nations are reluctant to use legislation to control UAS. Given the argument offered elsewhere in this Section that such legislation would be of general benefit, the question of who or what is generating this apparent resistance should be explored. Given that the media now routinely uses UAS and limiting their freedom of operation will greatly reduce their utility to the media, the question is, whether the media are responsible for shaping public perceptions and/ or influencing political decision making regarding the use of UAS?
Other Legitimate Users
Beyond the media, there are multiple commercial users of a variety of UAS. These users will on the whole be responsible but, better understanding of where UAS are being employed now and where they are likely to be used in the future is required.
Friendly Forces Perspectives
Understanding is Key
The FP Practitioner must understand, in as much detail as possible, both what it is they are protecting and how it functions, as well as what the adversary is seeking to do (what, why, when, where, how, etc.) or more simply, the adversaries desired ends, ways and means.
A Known Unknown
There is general consensus that unthinking and/or nefarious use of UAS is a problem that requires attention. However, a more worrying question that cascades from this is that if we believe we have a problem, based on what we are seeing, what proportion of the problem is going unseen or indeed unreported? For example, what materiel of intelligence value has been gathered using UAS, without the presence of that system being detected and hence, a lack of awareness of where compromises may already have occurred? Is the current perceived use of UAS, only the ‘tip of the iceberg’; how much UAS activity goes undetected and/or unreported?
Novel Application of Existing Technology
Again, there is an element of understanding required here. What existing technology is available or, which could be made available with little delay and be used to either detect or defeat an UAS? If the FP Practitioner understands how a piece of technology functions or, can consult with the appropriate Subject Matter Expert (SME), deploying technology in a role for which it was never intended should be considered.
No Single Solution
A phrase that was often used when NATO was seeking to respond to the growing use of IEDs by the Taliban was that there was no ‘Silver Bullet’; no single approach or piece of equipment that would solve all aspects of the problem. Any solution to the UAS challenge is likely to have multiple facets and require the coordinated response of many actors/effectors. Equally, it is unlikely that a solution that works at one location or in one environment can be deployed ubiquitously. If multiple threats exist, each with their own distinct operating parameters, it is likely that multiple counter-systems will be required. Similar approaches or processes may be applied, but a radar optimised to detect high and fast targets will struggle to detect low and slow targets and sensor performance should not be compromised by trying to cover too large a threat spectrum. If the threat, criticality of the asset and the appetite for risk drivers require it, a considerable range of sensors to include electro-optical, thermal, acoustic and seismic could be required to counter a range of threats. Similarly, if a variety of threat systems are to be effectively engaged, a range of weapons will be required.
As with the majority of activities, there are likely to be constraints on what can be done; C-UAS activity is no different. Considerations will include, but will not be limited to electromagnetic spectrum management, jurisdiction, privacy, Rules of Engagement (ROE), geographic boundaries, areas of responsibility, etc. It is offered that the law, in many nations, is by far the biggest constraint, particularly when considering FP of the Homebase in ‘peacetime’. It is not that the FP Practitioner is unable to protect against the UAS threat, it is that the means to detect and if necessary, neutralise a threat simply cannot be employed. Note that it remains vital when planning any activity to consider any negative or unintended consequences, such as the potential for collateral damage and negative publicity.
Friendly Forces and a growing spectrum of other legitimate UAS users exist. From a FP Practitioner’s perspective, moving forward will require broad engagement to ensure that other interested parties are working to develop existing traffic management systems to incorporate new users. This may require the commitment of additional resources, but if this facet of the challenge is ignored, you risk issues of fratricide due to an inability to separate friendly forces and/or legitimate users from ill-advised or foolish and adversary use of UAS. An ability to understand and manage what is in the battlespace will be fundamental to managing risk.
A Proven Approach
While considering the threat of UAS, FP planners must also consider that other, as yet unidentified threats, will undoubtedly emerge in the future. Probably more importantly at this stage, existing threats will endure, re-emerge, evolve or be revitalised/reinvigorated. Consider, if NATO were to deploy a large number of personnel, particularly at short notice, into a high IED threat environment, would that force have institutionalised the lessons learned during combat operations in Afghanistan? The answer is probably not. In other words, we would have to re-learn previously hard-won lessons.
Modification of Existing Practices
Is it realistic to develop new approaches and possibly technology, for every new threat? The problem is that with every new approach comes a training requirement and every new piece of equipment brings a maintenance bill. Put simply, it is unrealistic to think that a bespoke ‘golf club’ exists for every eventuality. The key will be the ability to adapt existing methodologies to developing threats through the application of intellectual rigour. Therefore, the FP Practitioner should focus on maintaining proven, effective and sustainable counter-threat methodologies as captured in NATO FP doctrine, these include:
- Counter-Surface to Air Fire (C-SAFIRE) patrolling;
- Mortar Baseplate Checks;
- Vehicle Check Points (VCPs) within the Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR);
- Influence Patrols;
- Overt and Covert Observation Posts (OPs);
- Use of residual air capacity for FP purposes.xi
How can activity be modified or re-shaped to take into account the requirement for C-UAS? Examples here include, but are not limited to, conducting sweeps of the likely areas where UAS can be launched and/or operated from, similar to the way that Mortar Baseplate Checks are currently undertaken; if an adversary is building their own, modifying or weaponizing a commercial system, activity designed to identify possible workshops could be considered.xii Presence Patrols or Outreach Activity in an urban area can be considered to contribute, as a second-order effect, to both any C-IED and/or Counter-Surface to Air Fire (C-SAFIRE) effort – one activity, multiple effects. Knowing what to look for and/ or what questions to ask will enhance the ability to interdict any threat before it manifests itself. Other examples of applicable practices include considering an UAS in flight as an IDF threat or, an immobilised system on the surface as either a mine or IED.
When the threat from UAS is broken down into its component parts as above, it becomes readily apparent that the threat (while clearly a challenge) is not what it may first seem. Proven FP techniques to include (but not limited to) hardening, dispersal, camouflage and concealment, deception and redundancy will all aide in threat mitigation. Equally, the domination of the TAOR around a NATO asset requires the ability to detect, deter, disrupt, neutralise or destroy the threat. The solution to this apparent conundrum lies in the ability of the FP Practitioner to accurately identify the type and scale of threat and subsequently articulate it; the vehicle for achieving this is the FP Estimate. If the analysis within the FP Estimate is robust, it should lead to the generation of the necessary assets to meet and ideally overmatch the threat. In addition, it will certainly provide a solid basis for the understanding of the risk(s) and subsequent Risk Management decisions.
Force Protection Perspectives
This is a highly specialized and critical area to consider and where there is no substitute for expert advice. A challenge for the FP Practitioner from the outset is that every location and every activity will have its own distinct legal parameters. In an operational environment where there is a recognised threat, and/or designated adversary, the constraints imposed on the conduct C-UAS activity are likely to be less. However, the real challenge exists in peacetime at the so-called ‘Homebase’. In this latter scenario, the inescapable problem is that the FP Practitioner is unlikely to be able to counter the UAS threat in the majority of its manifestations, due to legal constraints (e.g. the inability to apprehend the operator, the unwillingness of civilian law enforcement to respond or the inability to seize/impound systems). Compounding this dilemma is the current, apparent unwillingness to address these legal issues. It is offered that the ability to protect assets could be greatly simplified if there was a concerted effort to either address legal deficiencies or, apply existing legislation more widely and/or more robustly. Further discussion can be found in Part IV of this book (cf. p. 373 ff.) and also in the JAPCC White Paper entitled: ‘The Implications for Force Protection Practitioners of Having to Counter Unmanned Systems – A Think-Piece’.
A suite of NATO FP documents exists and each contains a list of further reading. Whilst it is acknowledged that as these publications are reviewed, particular mention of UAS as a specific threat will be included, current documents do already provide a comprehensive spectrum of counter-threat methodologies than can be applied now to the challenge of C-UAS. The pillars of C-IED doctrine (Defeat the Device, Attack the Network and Train the Force) and much of how this is achieved is applicable to C-UAS activity.
The Human Dimension
Perhaps the NATO FP Practitioner’s most effective weapon is the ability to analyze and subsequently understand a problem. Equally, it would be an error to consider any adversary as less intelligent than ourselves. Any threat will have a human in the system at some point. Even if an UAS is categorised as autonomous, a human will still have to set that system in motion and will be expecting that system to produce some output or effect. The FP Practitioner needs to ensure that the correct weight of effort is afforded to the human dimension of the threat as this is ultimately where it is most likely to be comprehensively defeated. Conversely, over-focus on the UAS itself (in C-IED terms ‘the device’), will likely lead to a more protracted campaign. At a very basic level, the reinvigoration of ‘old’ TTPs, such as the deployment of Sentries, will add to the ability to mitigate the threat.
It was stated at the outset that this Section would not discuss specific equipment. However, it is probable that any sensor requirement will be bespoke to a specific threat or even to an individual location. In an operating environment with a range of threats, it is likely that a suite of sensors will be required with each sensor system looking at either a specific threat (e.g. Direct Fire), a specific environment (e.g. acoustic or seismic sensors against the sub-surface threat) or, just part of a wider threat spectrum (e.g. an Air Defence Radar specifically ‘tuned’ for the detection of small, low and slow air threats). For the Alliance, it must be assumed that in a 360-degree threat environment it is inescapable that a range of sensors will be required to detect a range of threats. The ability to fuse sensor data so that a reduced number of sensor operators is required is conceivable. However, the cost, maintainability and supportability of any such solution is questionable at this time.
Many current sensors can be deployed with associated effectors as part of a system designed to counter existing, acknowledged threat-types e.g. Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (CRAM) systems or Surface-Based Air Defence (SBAD). These systems have a range of effectors optimised for the threat that they are designed to counter. Like the sensors, these effectors may be capable of defeating the UAS threat or if necessary, a tailored system may have to be deployed. However, before considering effectors, the inescapable reality is that the ability to defeat an UAS has to be underpinned by the necessary ROE. There are three major considerations. First, simply, is the engagement of any UAS permitted? Second, in engaging a UAS that could be described as a ‘small and fleeting target’, if the weapon system in use misses the intended target, where will any effect be realised? Finally, if the UAS is successfully engaged, what will the effect be on both the location being apparently targeted by the system and also any area where the debris (to include a potentially still viable weapon) may fall?xiii Now assuming that engagement is permitted, industry is marketing a variety of C-UAS capabilities which utilise various novel technologies. It is offered that whilst these ‘weapons’ have some ability proven in testing, their long-term viability in the operational environment remains questionable. Also, new technologies will likely have an associated resource burden, even if it is limited only to training and maintenance. At a very basic, but nevertheless important level, the FP Practitioner may have to consider providing FP for any system and its operator(s) as they may not be able to self-protect whilst engaged in C-UAS activity. Introducing new, potentially unproven technologies into the battlespace requires careful consideration with particular attention being paid to second-order effects and unintended consequences.
As of now, the range of threats and hazards faced, drives the range of capability required. If multiple threats can be countered by a single system, this is an advantage. However, an important consideration should be that the system’s performance is not compromised by expecting that one system can be equally as effective against all threats. It is offered that it would be better to deploy several systems, each optimised against a specific threat, rather than deploy a single system that is compromised in its ability to deal with any of the threats. With current technologies, it is most likely that a system-of-systems approach will be required.
GPS Jamming may be considered as a tool against the UAS threat. However, with so much Alliance technology relying on GPS or the GPS timing pulse, using GPS Jamming will require careful coordination and deconfliction with multiple agencies. This also assumes that the appropriate (scarce) technology can be obtained for deployment in the FP role? It is more likely that such technology, if deployed, will be deployed against larger systems beyond the immediate concern of the FP Practitioner.
Beyond the resource implications of introducing new capability, is the inescapable fact is that the world of the soldier, sailor, airman or marine is becoming ever more complex and the point is rapidly approaching where the individual is reaching their maximum capacity. This is in terms of both the physical sense of being able to simply carry all the equipment required and in the cognitive sense, where they are rapidly approaching a ‘saturation point’ of absorbing how to effectively operate multiple, separately developed, often incompatible systems which is becoming beyond many.
Following on from the above, an area where technology could have real positive effect for the FP Practitioner is in the area of FP planning. The author, in the course of researching this Section, was made aware of a software application originally called ‘Surface to Air Missile – Precision Rating and Analysis Software (SAM-PRAS).xiv This software is in use by a number of nations and over a significant number of years has been developed well beyond a simple Counter-Surface to Air Missile planning tool. The system has now evolved to the degree where it can be used as a Decision Support tool. Different layers can be developed with each corresponding to either a different threat or different manifestations of the same threat. Of equal value is the ability to use the tool to site different friendly forces sensor systems for maximum effect. The key point is that it is highly unlikely for the foreseeable future that significant additional resources are going to be made available for FP. Therefore, more effective planning that enables the better use of existing, scarce resources, has to be pursued and relatively cheap, but nonetheless effective, planning tools require greater investigation; the JAPCC remains actively engaged in this endeavour.
NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP)
The argument advanced within this Section is that the solution to countering the UAS threat lies predominantly in adapting existing counter-threat thinking and TTPs. To do this effectively, particularly if it is identified that additional, specific resources are required, it is perhaps worth considering developing a discreet C-UAS Capability Code and the supporting Capability Statement for introduction into the NDPP.
During the development of this Section, a number of observations came to the fore that need to be highlighted:
- Organisation should be wary of vocal, overly influential, minorities.
- UAS are just another threat for the FP Practitioner to contend with.
- NATO FP publications remain fit-for-purpose when applied to the C-UAS challenge.
- The intellectual component is key.
- The threat from UAS must be considered together with all other potential threats.
- Even a small UAS with limited range, endurance and payload will present a major threat in certain circumstances (e.g. if used against fragile, high-value but low-density assets).
- C-UAS is not only an FP Practitioner’s responsibility.
- A comprehensive, inter-agency, system-of-systems-based approach is necessary.
- In many cases the FP Practitioner is constrained by legal considerations.
- Some existing technology will be effective or, could easily be adapted.
- Any new approach must be considered across all Lines of Development.
- Traditional FP measures such as camouflage, concealment, screening and hardening together with TTPs such as the deployment of Sentries will be effective against UAS.
i. Using technology or equipment designed for one task for a different, unintended task.
ii. Doctrine, Organisation, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities and Interoperability (DOTMLPFI).
iii. AJP-3.14, Allied Joint Doctrine for Force Protection.
iv. ATP-3.3.6, NATO Force Protection Doctrine for Air Operations.
v. Notwithstanding that a small charge can have a large effect particularly if it can be delivered ‘surgically’ and/or with additional kinetic force and/or against a particularly vulnerable/fragile target.
vi. See AJP-3.14, Allied Joint Doctrine for Force Protection.
vii. It is acknowledged that data from an UAS could be transmitted via some form of link to a remote operator, however, this adds complexity which could in turn be exploited in order to detect and ultimately counter the threat.
viii. In the case of an apparently autonomous system, the link between operator and system as a targetable element might be absent, but what would be the ends of that link i.e. the system ‘owner’ and the vehicle itself, remain tangible, targetable entities.
ix. Note that some effective measures are already in place to mitigate the risk of uneducated use of unmanned systems (e.g. Geofencing).
x. Due to the outlets name and/or generally perceived reputation.
xi. Most NATO installations will have at least a helipad. Any aircraft with surplus fuel can be asked to conduct an overflight of an area(s) of interest in support of the overall FP effort.
xii. For this to be a realistic option, it will be necessary to have an understanding of what UAS components look like and personnel will in turn, need to be trained in identifying such components. A simple example would be the presence of rotor-blade assemblies or remote-control devices.
xiii. Recognising that this area could well be a civilian area outside the perimeter of an Alliance facility.
xiv. Whilst other software applications may exist, none became apparent whilst conducting basic, open-source market research.
Wing Commander (ret.) Jez Parkinson
Wing Commander Parkinson is a RAF Regiment Officer with 33-years’ regular Service; over half in the Multinational environment and in excess of 7-years on operations. He continues to work as a Reservist in the Force Protection Environment and as a civilian on Asset Protection collaborating with the military, industry and academia. He is the author of NATO FP Policy, FP Doctrine for Air Operations and the current Custodian for Joint FP Doctrine. He is responsible for the development and delivery of NATO FP Courses as well as writing several publications and articles on FP.