Friday, July 19, 2019

Boxer Downs Iranian Drone With Jamming

By now, you’ve heard about the downing of an Iranian drone by the USS Boxer while transiting the Strait of Hormuz.  The Drive/War Zone website is reporting that the downing was due to the action of a Marine anti-drone electronic warfare dune buggy chained to the deck of the Boxer rather than the defensive weapons of the ship. (1)

USS Boxer With LMADIS On Deck (1)

The Drive/WarZone published an article describing an anti-drone system known as the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS).  The system consists of a RADA RPS-42 short range, S-band, hemispheric, AESA radar mounted on an MRZR dune buggy.  On top of the radar unit is a gyro-stabilized CM202 multi-sensor optical ball that provides positive visual identification of targets. (2)  The systems apparently operate in pairs.  When a target is designated, the targeting data can be fed to various systems such as a Modi jammer which is a backpack signal jammer. (3)  Theoretically, the targeting data could be fed to a ship’s hard-kill defensive systems but it is unknown (and probably unlikely) that this was possible, in this case.  It appears that the Modi jammer was used to disrupt the ground control signal to the Iranian drone thereby causing it to crash.

LMADIS On Kearsarge (2)

The article also details several other extremely close encounters with Iranian aircraft and boats during the transit.  It seems clear that the decision to down the Iranian drone was a retaliatory action for recent Iranian downings of US drones and the choice of the drone as the target rather than, for example, an Iranian Bell 212 helo that passed “yards away from the deck”, was due to the unmanned nature of the Iranian drone.  Drones ‘plinking’ would seem to be the new sport in the Middle East.

There are a few aspects to this that merit some consideration.

Drone Survivability – While we have no idea how sophisticated the Iranian drone was, this is yet another example of the inherent fragility and lack of survivability of drones in combat.  Despite this mounting evidence, the US military continues to count on UAVs for all manner of tasks.  Worse, many of these tasks are the foundation of our combat capability.  When the UAVs are found to be non-survivable in combat, what will become of our combat capability without the foundations they were designed on?

Simplicity – The outstanding aspect of this incident is the fielding of a very simple system with a straightforward, limited (meaning focused) capability assembled from largely commercially available equipment.  This is outstanding.  It provides an immediately useful, basic capability rather than waiting indefinitely for an exquisite, leap ahead technology that will never deliver.  Whoever cobbled this system together deserves a salute.  K.I.S.S. !

Ship Defenses – For all the ultra high end, sophisticated sensors, electronic warfare, and defenses of the USS Boxer, the ship used a cobbled together dune buggy EW system chained to the deck for its anti-drone protection.  This is both commendable and highly disturbing that the ship’s organic defenses couldn’t handle the job.  This should also tell us something about designing systems for use against high end threats and ignoring the low end.  Where is the Navy’s cobbled together, low end, anti-drone system?  Has our development and acquisition system become so complex that we can’t respond with simple, basic, useful systems that can be quickly fielded?  Of course, we know the answer to that is, yes, our development/acquisition system is too complex to be responsive and useful.  We keep talking about innovation and speed of development/response but the evidence is that nothing is actually being done about it.

Engagement Bar – When armed UAVs first appeared on the scene, the civilian authority (the Presidential Administration) and the military latched on to them and began an almost free fire reign of Hellfires on terrorist targets across the world.  The bar on engagement had been lowered.  UAVs somehow seemed ‘okay’ and ‘permissible’ to use with little provocation or thought as opposed to committing manned air or ground forces to the same objective.  I’m not going to debate the wisdom of that policy.  The fact is that the criteria to use deadly force was lowered. 

Similarly, the spread of smaller drones seems to have further lowered the bar on engaging one’s enemies.  Drones seem to be acquiring a status of ‘free fire’ targets.  Countries seem to be considering anti-drone actions, even in international airspace, as freely permissible with little or no rationale.  This can only encourage further hostile acts and will, eventually, lead to intentional or unintentional actions against manned assets. 

We need to carefully consider the implications of this standard of behavior as we move forward.  Do we really want to allow unfriendly countries to believe that they have a ‘right’ to freely shoot down our drones?  Do we really want to limit ourselves to shooting down unfriendly drones as opposed to a much more extensive and severe reaction, if the provocation was worth it? 

For example, in this case, if we believed there was a bona-fide threat to the USS Boxer, should we have limited ourselves to downing the drone, which will do nothing to prevent a recurrence in the future, or should we have destroyed the drone, its launch site, its control site, and the personnel responsible for threatening our ship?  If the threat was real then we should have acted to permanently remove the threat capability, not just one drone, and send an emphatic message.  If the ‘threat’ was just a pretext to engage in some tit-for-tat drone plinking then we need to carefully consider what kind of behavior system we’re establishing.


(1)The Drive/The War Zone website, “Marine Anti-Drone Buggies On USS Boxer Knocked Down ‘Threatening’ Iranian Drone”, Joseph Trevithick, 18-Jul-2019,

(2)The Drive/The War Zone website, “USS Kearsarge Transits The Suez Canal With Anti-Drone Buggies Keeping Watch On Deck”, Tyler Rogoway, 20-Jan-2019,


  1. You could argue it’s efficient for an amphib to use the Marines’ weapons on the vehicles rather than duplicating them on the hull.

    1. Well, the real question is why isn't the gazillion dollar ship's EW suite effective against simple drones? Someone missed the boat on that!

    2. Given Boxer is also equipped with Sea Sparrow, RAM, and Phalanx, she has other means to defeat a drone. Though on a cost basis, it would probably not be in our favor.

    3. Rubbish!The SLQ-32 is a 1970s vintage program that was introduced as a'design to price' system'.Attempts to upgrade/replace the system years ago were considered too expensive and the funds were redirected to 'higher priority' aviation EW programs.You want to see 'gazillions'--go to Whidbey Island and see the underutilized EA-18G aircraft parked on the ramp.

  2. ...if I recall the story correctly, in WW2 the first accidental "countermeasure" to German radio controlled glide bombs was a navy officer's electric shaver that put out a lot of broadband RF noise...

  3. Pentagon's video would be useful (Iran says nothing happened)

  4. Do we know the gazillion dollar ship tried it’s little heart out to electrowizzle the drone but failed? They could have had Other Reasons for wanting to use the Dune Buggy.
    Also, ComNavOps, you advocate non exquisite, stupid amphibs, don’t you? This ship should never be unescorted...

    1. " ComNavOps, you advocate non exquisite, stupid amphibs, don’t you? This ship should never be unescorted..."

      I do advocate basic transports and, yes, they should be escorted - of course, they shouldn't be deployed in peacetime but that's another issue.

      You're making a point and I'm missing it. Are you suggesting that I'm being inconsistent about faulting the ship for not having a capable ECM system? If so, my point was two-fold: one, the exquisite ECM system it has appears to be ineffective against even a very simple threat and that's a problem and, two, the Navy should be able to cobble together simple systems for dealing with simply threats, as the Marines did, but the Navy has failed. For want of the vanishingly small cost of a cobbled together system, the Navy is putting multi-billion dollar ships at risk.

      If none of that was your point, then try again.

    2. "Do we know the gazillion dollar ship tried it’s little heart out to electrowizzle the drone but failed? They could have had Other Reasons for wanting to use the Dune Buggy."

      As reported, the Navy systems did not operate. I can think of no reason why they wouldn't, if they were capable. I can also think of no reason why they would have a dune buggy chained to the deck if the ship's systems were capable. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that the ship's systems were not capable and the Navy knew it ahead of time.

  5. The LMADIS uses an Israeli RADA MHR radar, S-band; AESA; GaN silicon; passively cooled; pulse Doppler; software-defined; non-rotating; 90º azimuth coverage with single 50.4cm dia antenna, hemispheric coverage with four antenna, the Multi-mission Hemisphere Radar (MHR).

    Max range 40km; height 30 to 30,000'; detection of the smallest drone, nano UAV eg Black Hornet 4 x 1 inch, is 3.5 km.

    What puzzles me is why using the S-band as radar range resolution is approx. inversely proportional to bandwidth and bandwidth is roughly proportional to frequency, X-band radar ~ 8-12 Ghz  has a range resolution roughly three times better than an S-band radar ~2-4 GHz.

    RADA have been successful with the MHR radar besides the use on the LMADIS, last year selected for US Army IM-SHORAD, Initial Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense, an interim short-range air defense system, a capability gap identified a few years ago in the European theater during Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine when their artillery/rockets guided by UAVs wiped out a Ukrainian mechanized column.

    Integrated on Stryker to provide 360-degree aerial surveillance to detect and track UAS, rotary wing and fixed wing threats at desired ranges, execute at the short-halt and operate on the move. IM-SHORAD will use 4 Stingers with a new digital missile launcher, M230 chain gun and the 7.62mm coaxial machine gun plus two Hellfires?, thought they would need more Stingers, four is a very small number for short range AAW.

    The Brits/RN have recently been testing the LMM/Martlet missile 13kg/~6+km range, equivalent to Stinger, on a frigate, fitting a five round launcher on side of their 30mm cannon to take out UAVs and boghammars.

    1. Is S-band better than X-band with stealthy targets?

  6. I’m happier to trust in the unknowability of the USN’s decision making process for using the dune buggy. Maybe they just wanted to try it out? To fill in some information on some reports about how well it worked? Someone is invested in that kit proving itself, and we don’t know what sway they have. So I don’t see that using the dune buggy precludes the possibility that the ship’s systems worked. There doesn’t seem much way to be sure?!

    1. "Maybe they just wanted to try it out?"

      I considered that rationale but it's not logical. They would have had plenty of opportunity to test it out against real targets during development. It's not like it's hard or expensive to procure UAVs identical to whatever Iran is using. Plus, you're not really going to risk a multi-billion dollar ship just to 'try out' a piece of Marine gear are you? They could have 'tried it out' on land in Iraq or any number of other places around Iran where they wouldn't have had to risk a multi-billion dollar ship.

      I think it's safe to say that the buggy was there because someone believed they needed it.

      So, no, I think we can rule out someone just 'trying out' the equipment.

  7. About about the stupid/exquisite amphib point, I was suggesting more broadly that maybe it doesn’t matter if the amphib doesn’t have an EW suite. Somewhat analogously, the QE class don’t even have any self defence AAW missiles. I don’t know if this is great practice, but it is suggestive.
    As to whether the EW suite failed, as stated above I can envisage reasons why they chose not to try and use it. If they did fail I agree it was quite feeble as this was an Iranian homebrew drone.
    So that was my only issue - if you have a destroyer with a beastly EW suite and some vehicles with okay ones available, does the transport ship need one of it’s own?

    1. "maybe it doesn’t matter if the amphib doesn’t have an EW suite."

      It doesn't, IF you're going to provide it with an escort that does or leave it tied up pierside where it should be.

      "the QE class don’t even have any self defence AAW missiles. I don’t know if this is great practice, but it is suggestive."

      It is suggestive. It's suggestive that the UK designed a ship with an insufficient budget and had to cut corners (meaning, capabilities).

    2. " does the transport ship need one of it’s own?"

      There's another major aspect to this question and that is the fact that the Navy, by their own (stupid beyond belief) design, want to outfit amphibs with a few anti-ship missiles and send them into harm's way as part of the (stupid beyond belief) distributed lethality concept. If you're going to do that (stupid as it is) then you better give the ship the best EW suite you can because it's going to be hanging out there, alone and naked.

      Again, this is the Navy's concept, not mine!

    3. "It is suggestive. It's suggestive that the UK designed a ship with an insufficient budget and had to cut corners (meaning, capabilities)."

      Or it could be doctrine. AAW missiles interfere with flying operations so leave that aspect of layered defence to the escorts.

      No doubt even within the RN there are two schools of thought though.

  8. Iran claims no losses. US shows no proofs. Iran showed aerial images of the uss boxer.

  9. Any chance will see one of these (the buggy system)attached to the Ponce or whatever is now testing the USN laser around in order to see which system can knock down more drones in a certain amount of time and at what range in varied conditions? Because for all the money spent on Lasers it would seem the buggy system is doing cheaply and w/o ammo something the Laser is supposed to do.

    In a related note of simple quick improvements and since we are in the small boat area with a Iran indecent...

    It would seem it took the UK only about 5 months was able to add what looks like a cluster of 5 Martlet missiles to an existing 30mm auto mount. This seems a more down to earth answer to the small boat issue when you don't want to waste a NSM or SIM-6 on a guy with an RPG (vs a Laser - in cost and power).

  10. For a link

  11. It begs the question - is our view of weaponry/ship interface out of date.

    I'm mean shit park a few LAV-25s on the flight deck, a HIMARS and this little ECM buggy, and you have more close and long range firepower than a LCS.

    Are actual warships an out of date concept? Make a ro/ro and park what mobile weaponry you need on the top deck?

    Food for thought....

  12. "Or it could be doctrine. AAW missiles interfere with flying operations so leave that aspect of layered defence to the escorts."

    Morning, Skip! Good point, you can only put so much stuff in the air before someone's day is ruined. It strikes one (ok, ok, me) that sooner or later it has to be the same with ECM/ELINT. With two navies (plus whatever goodies the Iranians are throwing up) running Video/ELINT drones, drone jammers along with the occasional Raptor, F/A-18 and E-2C passing through, forgetting the collision possibilities, the electronic environment starts getting VERY crowded, no. I'm no Radioman Chief, but anecdotally, anyone know if my wonder at the proliferation of high-power RF sources is starting to be an issue? Also, it would seem that the ability of drones on both sides to loiter is now compromised. Further, if I'm Iran or a U.S. Skipper at sea, drones outside my 'legal' territory are subject to attack if they're looking into my territory. They could be there to direct an attack, if weapons are or are going to be hypersonic, you're dead the minute you see a drone that needs shooting down. It would be the height of incompetence on either country's commanders not to consider this, the rules are changing and quickly.

    The protocols are being developed before our eyes, incident-by-incident.

    1. "anyone know if my wonder at the proliferation of high-power RF sources is starting to be an issue?"

      I don't think so, at least not in the sense that you're suggesting. There are an ever increasing number of electronic combat devices appearing but in their normal mode of operation they're largely passive detectors of electronic signals as opposed to signal generators (jamming, for example) which is what I think you're referring to.

      You are completely correct about new drone protocols being developed as we watch.

  13. Marines protecting Navy ships … Ahh the good old days are back!

    Makes you want to be a sharpshooter in the rigging.


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