Leonardo demonstrated a swarming drone capability for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) in July, during which a number of small remotely piloted aircraft equipped with the company’s electronic warfare jamming technology were used to confuse and overwhelm trial radars simulating enemy air-defence systems. Credit: Leonardo.

The drones are coming. And there’s not much you can do to stop them — especially when they jam and overwhelm your radar defense systems.

Worse yet, they are cheap and expendable.

According to a report in everythingRF, leading defense solutions expert, Leonardo, in a joint partnership with the Royal Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), successfully conducted a live trial of a “swarming drone” attack.

A number of small, remotely-piloted aircraft equipped with Leonardo’s powerful electronic warfare (EW) jamming technology were used to confuse and overwhelm trial radars simulating an enemy air defense system.

Inspired by swarms of insects, the concept for swarming drones has already been recognized by the UK Ministry of Defense as a potential game-changer, everythingRF reported.

Following a rapid cycle of development which saw the RCO and Leonardo’s engineers working closely together with UK SMEs Callen-Lenz and Blue Bear, this live trial represents a key step towards proving an autonomous swarming drone capability.

During the demo, a number of Callen-Lenz drones were equipped with a modified Leonardo BriteCloud decoy, allowing each drone to individually deliver a highly-sophisticated jamming effect, everythingRF reported.

In addition, the decoy packages were programmed and navigated to work collaboratively to cause maximum confusion.

Tested against a ground-based radar system representing an enemy air defense emplacement, the swarm of BriteCloud-equipped drones overwhelmed the threat radar with electronic noise.

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Leonardo’s BriteCloud, which was originally developed as a high-tech protective decoy for combat jets, went into service with the RAF in 2018, marking another world-first for Leonardo and the RCO.

Known generically as an Expendable Active Decoy (EAD), each BriteCloud round can individually mimic the radar signature of the aircraft it is launched from, causing threat radar systems to track the drinks-can-sized decoy rather than the aircraft itself.

“During the demonstration, a number of Callen-Lenz drones were equipped with a modified Leonardo BriteCloud decoy, allowing each drone to individually deliver a highly-sophisticated jamming effect,” according to Leonardo’s press release.

“They were tested against ground-based radar systems representing the enemy air defence emplacement. A powerful demonstration was given, with the swarm of BriteCloud-equipped drones overwhelming the threat radar systems with electronic noise.”

For reasons that are unclear, Leonardo has since removed its press release from its website, though an archived copy of the page remains available through Google.

The standard BriteCloud is what is known as a Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) jammer that first detects incoming radar pulses from hostile platforms, including aircraft, ships, and ground-based air defense systems, as well as active radar guidance systems on incoming missiles, The War Zone reported.

It then mimics those signals in return, creating the appearance of a false target. As Leonardo said in its own press release, this effect can “confuse and overwhelm” radars and lure missiles away from friendly aircraft.

BriteCloud, which can be launched from any dispenser capable of firing standard 55mm decoy flares or chaff cartridges, first entered RAF service in 2018 on the now-retired Tornado GR4 combat jet, The War Zone reported.

Last year, the service began tests of the decoy on its Eurofighter Typhoons and indicated that it could also eventually integrate them on its F-35B Joint Strike Fighters.

Unlike a plane dropping expendable BriteClouds, in the recent demonstration, Leonardo noted that “the decoy packages were programmed and navigated to work collaboratively to cause maximum confusion.”

At the same time, the off-the-shelf electronic warfare expendables are just that, expendable. If you lose one and its drone platform, it isn’t a big deal as they are meant to be expendable in the first place, The War Zone reported.

The US Air Force is also in the midst of its own networked munition program, called Golden Horde, and the Army recently revealed plans to develop swarms of air-launched drones carrying electronic warfare systems and other payloads.

The only product of its type now available worldwide, BriteCloud is available for UK allies to order and is currently undergoing evaluation by US Armed Forces.