The majority of this document has examined small commercial UAS from the perspective of them being a threat, something that is used against us.
But flip that coin, if they are a threat, they are also an opportunity, if we can become agile enough to exploit it.
We know of the counter UAS systems being marketed by UK manufacturers so the first thing the MoD should do is just buy a handful of them, yes I know we are already doing some fairly low key development work and the MoD/Home Office may have already purchased without any fanfare, but the UK defence export market is helped by the UK buying its own products.
If the discrete counter-terror market remains discrete, the other opportunity is for a base and deployed forces protection.
There are already a number of existing capabilities and projects that could be augmented with C-UAS technology, base protection ISTAR and area air defence for example. For those systems that are perhaps more focused on static location protection, let’s mount them on a MAN SV truck or Land Rover and deploy them on an exercise (and be showy about it).
This will create energy and opportunity in defence export markets.
The systems can also be exploited directly by the MoD.
We have seen recently how the Royal Navy has deployed small-scale commercial UAS on HMS Protector, a great example, but more of this is needed from all three services. The Army’s Urban Warrior and Mad Scientist streams have also deployed small UAS for urban area experimentation but this was some time ago, we need to be a bit louder.
Unmanned systems in a military context are obviously nothing new.
The British Army uses the Desert Hawk fixed wing and Prox Dynamics Black Hornet nano rotary wing UAS for ISTAR tasks. The Honeywell T-Hawk is also used for C-IED support.
UAS are nothing new for the British Army.
These are excellent systems but they are expensive and therefore, not freely available for experimentation. With the lower cost commercial systems there should be a recognition of their shortcomings but because they are so cheap, they can be obtained in large quantities.
By treating them as a consumable, like ammunition or pyrotechnics, we can release them to subunits and let experimentation take place at the ‘grass roots’ level. Rather than rigidly controlled and cap badge centric exploitation of UAS, by letting subunits make their own mistakes, develop their own expertise and ideas, new uses will emerge.
I like the idea of unstructured experimentation, they are cheap enough to buy a handful of different types and let infantry platoon commanders loose with them. Let’s get them out onto an exercise area and not worry about breaking them, but see how they could be deployed in a section attack or fighting patrol at the lowest realistic level.
Armoured and Reconnaissance units likewise.
Instead of top down, free up the young Officers and Junior NCO’s to get on with it, who, let’s face it, are going to be more familiar and comfortable with the technology.
Even if they were used for post training analysis, it would be a benefit, a library of aerial footage of sections attacks disseminated across DII allows best practice to be quickly shared.
As these ideas of a concept of use develop on cheap surrogate devices, they can be transitioned onto more military oriented devices.
Allowing ideas to percolate up from the lowest level is the quickest way to exploit emerging technologies like UAS, keeping them firmly in the grip of the Royal Artillery may put brakes on this platoon/section level usage.
If nothing else, we should utilise them in OPFOR development, we must assume we will face enemy forces that have these commercial systems.
The Royal Air Force has begun experimentation for aircraft inspection, a great use of the technology. Is there any applications for deployed force usage, perhaps force protection and the RAF Regiment might use them. The Royal Marines, likewise, there are waterproof models available, so why not have a few mounted on a TD2400 hovercraft and use them for extending the horizon, or providing an overwatch capability for a non-hostile vessel boarding.
The point here is to absolutely recognise that they might not be 100% robust enough or not 100% secure enough or even 100% suitable, but bottom up conceptual development is more important than the technology, simply because the technology can be adapted for military use.