The Marine Corps’ L-MADIS (Light-Mobile Air Defense Integrated System), is a high-powered jammer and sensor package mounted on a 4×4. Credit: Marine Corps.

If you go to Costco today, you will find a $20 plastic mini-drone, that, when released, features AI technology, allowing it to fly around your house, avoiding objects all on its own.

This is a child’s toy, but make no mistake, this technology also poses serious problems for mankind.

It sounds like a joke, but the US military has spent many millions of dollars to stop $100 quadcopters and other mini-drones that terrorists could use to spy or deliver bombs.

With ISIS using mini-drones in Syria and Iraq, and Iran using larger ones against a Saudi oil field, the need for a solution was urgent, but the result has been a hastily stitched patchwork of defenses, many of which only solve one small part of the problem and don’t work well with one another.

But that is about to change.

From radio jammers to lasers, a wide range of technologies from a wide range of companies will have a place in the Pentagon’s new architecture for anti-drone defense, Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey told reporters this week, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. of Breaking Defense reported.

“What all the services have truly embraced is the common C2 standards that are being developed as part of this process, which is going to allow the plug-and-play of industry’s emerging technologies,” said Gainey, the Army two-star tapped in January to head the newly created JCO, the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office.

The JCO has now endorsed seven defensive systems and a single standard architecture for common-and-control, Breaking Defense reported.

In other words, if your unit uses one of the dozens of other systems not on the list, you’re still allowed to keep them, and program offices will sustain them, but the services should make all new purchases from the approved list.

According to Breaking Defense, the goal is to stop different services and commands from buying multiple, often incompatible counter-drone defenses, focus investment on fielding and upgrading a few “best of breed” systems, and, perhaps most important, impose a single common standard for command & control that’s flexible enough to bring in new technologies as they emerge.

Gainey’s JCO reviewed about 40 different systems either bought expressly for the Counter-small Unmanned Aerial Systems mission or modified to do C-sUAS, ranging from a handheld jammer called Drone Buster to missile defense radars.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Briar Purty, an infantryman with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division tests Drone Killer Counter-UAS Technology. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo/Rhita Daniel.

About 10 of those systems had valid missions beyond C-sUAS, like the Army’s Sentinel radar, so the new policy doesn’t apply to them, Gainey said, but it does cover the 30-plus others that were primarily for stopping small drones, Breaking Defense reported.

The seven approved defenses fall into three categories. Dismounted/Handheld covers lightweight tech for troops on foot. Three options are approved in this category:

  • the Special Operation Command’s (SOCOM) Bal Chatri (named after a traditional Indian bird trap);
  • the commercially available Smart Shooter, a targeting aide that makes conventional rifles precise enough to hit a flitting drone; and
  • the Dronebuster, also commercially available, which hijacks a drone’s wireless control link to make it “descend or go home.”

The middleweight category, vehicle-Mounted/Mobile Systems, has one option: the Marine Corps’ L-MADIS (Light-Mobile Air Defense Integrated System), whose current form is a high-powered jammer and sensor package mounted on a 4×4, Breaking Defense reported.

The heavyweight category, stationary Fixed/Semi-Fixed Systems, has one primary option, developed by the Army, and two others that the Army has proven can integrate with it.

  • The Army’s FS-LIDS (Fixed Site-Low, Slow, Small Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Defeat System) uses a FAAD-C2 network to include a range of different weapons and sensors; the current Increment One version can both jam a drone’s control link or physically shoot it down.
  • The Air Force offering is NINJA (Negation of Improvised Non-State Joint Aerial-Threats), which can plug into FS-LIDS.
  • The Navy’s is CORIAN (Counter-Remote Control Model Aircraft Integrated Air Defense Network), which is also compatible.

JCO is working with the services to establish common technical standards governing counter-drone command-and-control, Gainey said, so the military can plug-and-play any company’s new technology as long as it meets those standards, Breaking Defense reported.

“We’re going to continue to look at emerging technology and new technology out there,” he said, “where industry can have the opportunity to compete.”