Air Force Scrambles to Defeat Islamic State’s Flying Bomb Drones
By: Valerie Insinna, October 24, 2016
WASHINGTON — The US military needs to quickly develop affordable methods to
counter small unmanned drones used by Islamic State terrorists to move
explosives into an area, the Air Force’s top civilian urged Monday.
As military operations in Iraq and Syria continue, US forces are
encountering an “emerging threat” of unmanned aerial systems, Air Force
Secretary Deborah Lee James said at a Center for a New American Security
event. Over the past several weeks, there have been multiple instances of
Islamic State operators in Iraq and Syria buying cheap, off-the-shelf UAS
and equipping them with explosives — basically using them as flying bombs,
with sometimes fatal results.
“A week or two ago that there was a situation and four were killed — they
were not US citizens — from one of these small unmanned systems,” she said.
“How do we put our heads together on that topic quickly and figure out how
to defeat that type of approach?” James continued. “It’s not necessarily the
development of a new thing to defeat it. It could be taking what we’ve
gotten already and packaging that in a different way to go after that
threat, but we need to do that more rapidly.”
In a separate incident about a week ago, the Air Force was notified about a
potential Islamic State UAS threat, she said. The service was able to bring
the it down “fairly quickly” through “electronic measures,” she said,
declining to comment further on the tactics or weapon systems used to defeat
James stressed that potential solutions do not have to be kinetic. “You
don’t necessarily have to shoot,” she said. “There’s a variety of ways to
attack the problem and what we need to do is put our best thinking together
and focus on it going forward into the future.”
Concerns about the Islamic State’s use of unmanned aircraft is not limited
to one particular service. The Pentagon in July requested an additional $20
million for the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO) to
develop and buy counter-UAS technologies.
The Army is at work on a strategy for defeating small UAS, with the document
awaiting signature from senior service officials before publication, Lt.
Gen. H. R. McMaster, the service’s capability integration center director,
said earlier this month. The service’s new Rapid Capabilities Office will
also explore the problem and help develop new ways to overwhelm enemy
And during the CNAS event, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pointed to another
emerging technology that could one day be used to shoot down small UAS:
directed-energy weapons like the Laser Weapons System, which has been
installed aboard the USS Ponce since 2014.