Key Middle East Base Is First to Get Drone-Fighting Quadcopters

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Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar counter-small unmanned aerial systems
U.S. Airmen assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron counter-small unmanned aerial systems program pose for a group photo March 9, 2021, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. (Greg Erwin/U.S. Air Force)

A key U.S. air base in the Middle East has received its first counter-drone quadcopters for extra security and perimeter defense.

Members of the 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, have begun implementing counter-small unmanned aerial systems, or CUAS, for additional surveillance and to thwart enemy drones that could wreak havoc on the base's critical operation areas, according to a news release.

Al Udeid is the first U.S. Central Command base to receive the drones, which include quadcopters and hexacopters, according to accompanying photos. The base flew test demonstrations using the new drones in March.

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"The goal of the program is to build countermeasures for Al Udeid that would pose as a last line of defense against all small UAS threats," Staff Sgt. Ryan Walters, of the 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, said in the release. He is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the CUAS program.

Walters said operators must spend 12 to 15 hours training on the drones before they can use them for the base defense mission. As part of a 40-hour course requirement, the instruction also includes how to employ onboard cameras that can track and locate potential threats.

Defense against small drones has become an increasing priority for the Pentagon in recent years, especially as the systems are easy to obtain.

Some bases have already invested in defenses against small unmanned aircraft.

For the past several years, combat units overseas have been equipped with drone-disabling systems such as Dedrone's DroneDefender, a shoulder-fired weapon that disables them with radio waves. U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees America's nuclear arsenal, and Air Force Global Strike Command in 2019 began using "a command-and-control capability integrated with some detection and some jamming," according to Steve Wert, the Air Force's digital program executive officer, as reported by Air Force Magazine.

In December, Travis Air Force Base in California received its first quadcopter drone, made by Easy Aerial, which will allow base security to analyze and relay a potential threat to airmen before they head out to a scene.

The initiatives are part of the military's efforts to better safeguard bases and prevent attacks amid rising threats from small drones -- no matter their sophistication -- designed to disrupt operations or spy on aircraft.

Swarms of drones devastated Saudi Arabia's huge Abqaiq oil production facility and the nearby Al Khurais oil field in September 2019, initially knocking out about five million barrels of oil production per day, according to Saudi defense officials.

That same year, then-Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord announced that the Defense Department had established an office focused on the growing challenge of targeting often-lethal adversary drones.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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