Unready to stop UAVs - Armed Forces Journal
America’s wars of the last decade have vaulted the UAV from novelty to workhorse. Yet too little is being done to prepare for the inevitable day when our enemies turn these weapons, which are growing cheaper, more powerful and more ubiquitous, against us.
There are severe shortcomings in almost every aspect of our approach to enemy UAVs, from education to materiel. But a coordinated, effective approach must flow from a comprehensive, thoughtful, agreed-upon doctrine, and so that is the logical starting point for a Pentagon effort to build up its counter-UAV capabilities.
The limited effort at creating a doctrine for countering enemy UAVs has largely focused on their use as platforms for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and limited strike, much as the U.S. uses them today. Moreover, the military tends to focus on force-on-force engagements during high-intensity conflicts.
This leaves out plenty of scenarios, including how terrorists, drug cartels and a range of other actors could employ UAVs within the current full-spectrum operations model. The military must broaden its perspective and think through the scope of the threat, from individual to group actors, so it can understand the wide range of options available to potential adversaries. It should launch a study to address current and emerging threats, at all levels, and by all system classes and types. It would be useful to frame the task by realizing that the employment of unmanned aircraft stands today about where the use of manned aircraft did after World War I. The study’s authors would be well-advised to go back in history and analyze what happened during the growth of air power, as they seek to build doctrine for countering UAVs.
But who or, more specifically, which organization should handle this task?
There is no single Defense Department organization whose mission is to think about countering UAVs, much less to coordinate the various service branches’ approaches. Even within the individual services, the mission is spread across organizations. This is perhaps unsurprising; the services are still to some extent jousting over control of their own UAVs. Witness the Air Force and Army’s dispute over the latter’s high-flying Gray Eagle. Not only does the Gray Eagle inhabit airspace traditionally dominated by the Air Force, but the Army allows its UAVs to be operated by junior enlisted members, while the Air Force requires rated aviation officers. Even intraservice squabbles still exist. The Army only recently ended the feud between its aviation and intelligence branches by assigning servicewide oversight to its aviation branch.
One logical place to lead DoD counter-UAV doctrine might have been the Joint UAS Center of Excellence, stood up in 2005 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., but it is slated to be shut down soon.
Therefore, one clear priority should be to anoint or create an organization within DoD to coordinate all counter-UAV efforts. This office would help integrate the services’ various UAV task forces by ensuring that they share lessons, doctrinal developments, intelligence gained and materiel successes to maintain a better coordinated and less diffuse process.
Another priority should be defining which service outfits have a piece of the counter-UAV puzzle. In the Army, such work should be done by various branches: military intelligence; science and technology; and the program executive offices for aviation and air defense. In the other services, the equivalent units should follow suit.
Once the leaders for various warfare areas have been marked and thorough doctrine development begun, the next problem is dissemination. There are few true subject-matter experts on counter-UAV developments. Such education is improving, yet it is still focused on visible threats: ones that have already been documented or are expected because they are employed in a manner similar to our own. A look at the curriculums for intermediate-level education at the Army’s Command and General Staff College and the Captains Career Course for the aviation, military intelligence and air defense branches shows that UAVs are discussed only as U.S. assets.