A U.S. Army air and missile defense unit in South Korea recently devised its first counter-drone defense plan to protect a garrison area as the threat of enemy unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, becomes more likely.
The proliferation of inexpensive drone technology has given birth to a new type of aerial threat on the battlefield. Practically silent, drones can conduct surveillance and carry munitions for a direct-attack role.
As part of a January exercise, E Battery, 6-52 Air and Missile Defense Battalion, in South Korea received orders to provide counter-UAS protection for Camp Carroll, located on the southeast portion of the Korean peninsula in Waegwan. Officials with the unit could not say for sure whether it’s the first time a deployed Army unit has developed an integrated counter-drone strategy in a training exercise, but it appears to be the first time the service has publicized in detail such an effort.
During the training exercise, E Battery leaders created a base defense design that relied on shoulder-fired FIM-92 Stinger Missile, Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, as well as DroneDefender systems to complement organic capabilities such as the Avenger -- a system equipped with eight Stinger missiles, a .50-caliber machine gun and forward-looking infrared (FLIR). It can work with Sentinel radar, which tells the system where to point.
The DroneDefender is a shoulder-fired system that interrupts the frequencies that enemy UAS operate on to bring them down and neutralize the threat.
"We had to design our defense plan and remain inside of Camp Carroll, which is a pretty small military installation here on the Korean Peninsula," 2nd Lt. Matthew Becker, a platoon leader in E Battery, told Military.com in a recent interview.
Soldiers armed with DroneDefenders can engage drones out to 500 meters. One crew member manned the turret of the Avenger at all times and used the FLIR and air picture from the Sentinel radar to search and scan for incoming aircraft or UAS.
"We integrated our DroneDefenders with our Avengers ... and we used the Avenger capabilities and our organic Sentinel capabilities to increase our overall air picture and situational awareness of the air space around Camp Carroll," Becker said. "That's how we developed a layered defense."
The unit held an after-action review, or AAR, to hear comments from leaders from other units.
"We improved our plan. ... We moved positions, we increased our posture, we added DroneDefenders if needed, and we integrated the Sentinel air picture," Becker said. "We added more positions, which really just gave us overlapping fires; we found some blind spots that we didn't initially take into consideration."
The AAR also included drone pilots looking at the plan to see how they could penetrate it.
Because of training restrictions in place across South Korea, the exercise could be held only at the battery level and did not include any live UAS flyovers to test the effectiveness of the defensive plan, unit officials said.
They were not discouraged by this, however, since E Battery has an enduring counter-UAS mission at a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile site in South Korea, Capt. Norris Potter IV, commander of E Battery, told Military.com.
"There is a platoon there 24/7; we just rotate them through," he said. "It's a live, enduring mission. ... The soldiers are able to train and certify and, at the THAAD site, they do fly UAS for validation and certification."
In the end, E Battery leaders were satisfied with the exercise.
"The layered defense is good because it adds more to the mission of what we can bring to the table," Potter said. "It allows us to train and execute our core [mission] with the Avenger and Sentinel systems, while adapting to this environment and integrating the counter-UAS piece."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.