As I have discussed for years, drones are going to start looking much more like organic species (if you have not read this article yet than please do now). The Army sees the value of hiding in plain site, this is why they are rapidly acquiring dozens of “Maveric” bird like drones for its Special Operations forces. Maveric has about an hour of flight time per battery battery and can be deployed by a single soldier. Additionally, the small drone is silent to anyone on the ground when it is at altitude. The uses for such a system are both plentiful and obvious.
This technology does represent a double edged sword though. In fact almost all micro-drone technology, that is proliferating throughout the commercial, and even civilian world, have a dark side. These small man-portable drones can be turned from surveillance assets to assassination tools by swapping out the payloads. Even the quad-rotor type hobbyist/commercial drones, like those controversially pimped to millions on 60 Minutes by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently, can carry around half a dozen pounds. Swap out that pair of earphones or cookbook you ordered with a warhead and you have a guided missile capable of some very horrific things. Now mutate that same capability into something that looks just like an ordinary bird and you present a real problem for those who work hard at protecting people and things. The line between missile and drone is blurring and will continue to do so as industry realizes just how useful a small, optionally suicidal drone can be. KAI’s Devil Killer is just one example of these new surveillance drones that possess a secondary capability as a guided weapon.
As this technology continues to develop you will see new emphasis put on securing the airspace around VIPs and very delicate but important infrastructure on a level greater than anything we have seen before. Whereas the threat from direct fire has been paramount when it comes to personal security, the focus will begin to morph more and more into protection against nontraditional indirect fire, aka small drones with evil payloads. Currently, some C-RAM (Counter Rocket Artillary Motor) systems do have a latent counter-UAV capability. Systems like the ground based Phalanx, called the Centurion, for instance has a sensitive doppler radar and IR/EO search, track, and engage capability. But to be able to really protect one’s “inner sphere” when exposed to the outside world, especially in urban areas where firing self destructing 20mm ammo at 4500 rounds per minute is not good politics, light speed weapons, along with jamming, are the future. Currently, a laser version of the Navy’s staple “Phalanx” Close In Weapons System is in advanced testing and is capable of taking down small drones quickly, reliably and with minimal collateral damage. So do not be surprised if this system, or one like it affixed to a trailer, becomes an omni-present fixture around key high-value individuals and infrastructure.
Although the Maveric is innovative and probably a highly effective tool for our soldiers in the field, as time goes by such a well masked capability could, and most likely will, be used against us. It is just another piece of twine in the exciting but also unsettling new world of unmanned weaponry. One where the word “drone” will increasingly be associated with both friend and foe…