While the private sector promotes the myriad commercial opportunities for drones of all shapes and sizes, this proliferation has some in the military and security sector worried. The U.S. still maintains a monopoly on weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles – and places stringent export policies on sharing this technology with partners – officials worry that smaller UAVs could serve as flying improvised explosive devices.
There have been some close calls recently, such hobbyist drones crashing on the grounds of the White House, forcing many to call for greater and more robust methods of detecting these small aircraft, which literally fly under the radar used to detect larger craft. But even detecting a weaponized small hobby drone, such as the device with radioactive material that landed on the Japanese prime minister’s residence, might not do any good, unless they can also be neutralized.
With that point in mind, the Army has creatively adapted a program designed to counter rockets, artillery and mortars, a process they call C-RAM, for defense against small UAVs, according to an Army news release.
The Army sees this as a way to address an growing threat. “Every country has [drones] now, whether they are armed or not or what level of performance,” said Manfredi Luciano, the project officer for the Extended Area Protection and Survivability Integrated Demonstration, which encompasses the C-RAM program. “This is a huge threat [that] has been coming up on everybody. It has kind of almost sneaked up on people, and it’s almost more important than the counter-RAM threat.”
According to Nancy Elliot, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Army’s Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Okla., the range of unmanned aircraft systems has grown from about 20 system types and 800 aircraft in 1999 to more than 200 system types and approximately 10,000 unmanned aircraft in 2010.