|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,https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/29063/marine-anti-drone-buggies-on-uss-boxer-knocked-down-threatening-iranian-drone
(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,https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/26067/uss-kearsarge-transits-the-suez-canal-with-anti-drone-buggies-keeping-watch-on-deck