The top Pentagon acquisition official said Tuesday that the U.S. military is ramping up its counter-drone effort as commanders downrange continue to struggle with these small, often difficult-to-detect threats.
Ellen Lord, the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, recently met with commanders in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East, who told her that countering unmanned aerial vehicle systems, or UAS, remains a challenge despite efforts to combat low-tech enemy drones.
"The one takeaway from all of my visits is that we need to continue to focus heavily on counter-UAS systems and strategies," Lord told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. "This remains a top priority for the department, and I will continue to engage with Congress and the defense industry on ways ahead."
The threat seen overseas, as well as at many continental U.S. installations, is a "variety of different drones, often small, difficult to detect with typical sensor packages we have," she said.
For the past several years, combat units have been equipped with drone-disabling systems such as Dedrone's DroneDefender, which has a range of several hundred meters against UAS such as quadcopters and hexacopters.
Recently, the Pentagon named the U.S. Army as executive agent for counter-UAS for all the services, but that is only the beginning, Lord said.
Defense officials are meeting with all of the services and the combatant commands about how to "qualify systems and neck down to the critical few that have the sensor [capabilities] and the actual either kinetic or [electronic warfare] type systems to neutralize incoming threats," she said.
"My goal is to make sure we have three to five systems that are tailored to a series of different types of threats and that we can get the economy of scale of having a few best systems out there," Lord said, adding that the focus is to "get those systems into the warfighters' hands as quickly as possible."
Last month in Texas, the Defense Department and Texas A&M University co-sponsored Drone Venture Day, during which more than 39 U.S. manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicle systems and counter-UAS systems met with 12 "trusted capital providers" to explore mutually beneficial partnerships focused on national security concerns, Lord said.
Drone Venture Day was the first in a series of events to build an ecosystem where trusted capital providers and domestic companies can limit adversarial foreign access to technology, she added.
Lord said the Chinese technology company DJI "flooded the market with low-cost quadcopters, particularly, which eroded our industrial base and really altered the landscape for the U.S. government and for the small drone industry.
"What we want to do is reinvigorate that," she said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Dedrone now manufactures the DroneDefender.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.