Counter Unmanned Aircraft System

Technology for Every Mission

Looking ahead to the future, the threat of adversarial drones will only increase. (Image: SAIC)

In the face of today’s geopolitical conflicts, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) dominate modern warfare, with both Ukraine and Russia invoking drones in their ongoing battle, and more militaries developing UAS programs worldwide. While Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (CUAS) are designed to respond — helping to detect, disrupt, disarm and defeat airborne vehicles — civil and military operations across the globe are hard-pressed to keep up with the demand.

Since 2012, SAIC has invested heavily in CUAS technologies, seeing the critical need for an integration team with efficient modernization capabilities and proven experience across Department of Defense’s (DoD) programs. As a result, SAIC earned the position as a solutions provider for not only the DoD and its individual services but also other federal civilian agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The SAIC Approach to CUAS Implementation

SAIC uses a combination of layered sensors, including radar, electro-optical and passive detection as well as effects provided by jammers, protocol override, and if needed, kinetics to defeat adversarial machinery. The team takes a system-of-systems (SoS) approach to ensure maximum mission effectiveness against a variety of threats, while focusing on a tailorable, scalable, and adaptable solution to meet the needs of its customers and their capabilities. This flexible approach allows SAIC to continuously integrate new technologies as they adapt, thereby outpacing the threat.

One of the first deployments of SAIC’s Valkyrie CUAS technology was on the ground vehicles pictured here. (Image: SAIC)

SAIC implements Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) applications to allow defense operators to approach the mission at hand efficiently and effectively — in instances when a system’s speed can have life or death consequences. It accomplishes this by approaching CUAS in five areas, providing end-to-end CUAS coverage. This approach supports efforts to detect, track, identify, mitigate and analyze/archive threats.

  1. Detection: Having a clear understanding of the drones’ location is essential, but many drones can be hiding in plain sight due to their small size. Radars are used to detect these hard-to-see threats, providing a 360-degree view of an area and helping to identify unmanned aircraft and then differentiating enemy UAS from commercial or personal aircraft.

  2. Tracking: When monitoring adversarial drones, CUAS operators often develop fatigue as they sift through copious amounts of detected anomalies. Sensor data fusion and association of government-owned and developed algorithms are used to monitor unknown aircraft around the clock.

  3. Identification: Electro-Optical and Infrared Sensors (EOIR) allow operators to identify a UAS system’s capabilities using high-definition zooming, then enabling the opportunity of “hooking” targets by jamming specific drone frequencies.

  4. Mitigation: Based on the details determined through detection and identification, SAIC’s CUAS systems defeat, and diffuse drones based on its customer’s jurisdiction and operational needs. CUAS technology enables teams to reduce UAS threats by overriding their systems to stop them, cause them to fall from the sky or return to sender. In situations where an override is not possible, CUAS systems can implement kinetic efforts to eliminate the threat altogether.

  5. Analyzing and Archiving: Sensors fulfill evolving needs by providing time-phased deployment, meeting all threat levels through its user-friendly command and control system. Further, operators can log UAS encounters, analyze patterns of adversarial drone efforts and archive effective countermeasures in the event of another future attack.

Over the last 12 years, SAIC has played an integral role in various federal and defense departments’ CUAS efforts, tailoring its solutions based on the mission at hand. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) recently implemented and deployed technology globally as a part of its CUAS efforts across multiple areas of operations. As a part of the technology’s flexibility, these CUAS solutions are lightweight and are easily moved across theaters, allowing customers to set up effective countermeasures no matter where the mission takes them. In addition to SAIC’s CUAS work with USAF, the team has also supported the Army and its Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), integrating a prototype CUAS system using a High Energy Laser (HEL) system and supporting on related studies and analysis.

Thanks to SAIC’s commitment to CUAS, it has become a trusted expert in the technology and the team’s expertise is often requested during pilot programs and military exercises. In 2022, the company was invited to participate in a series of tests and evaluations within the Army’s Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO). Based on the outcomes of the event, the Army developed a formal memo of recommendation for SAIC’s successful solutions for CUAS as a Service (CaaS).

Additionally, SAIC teams participated in other JCO events focused on Group 3 kinetic defeat, the classification from the DoD pertaining to large drones and operating at various altitudes and airspeeds. As a part of the exercise, SAIC was able to protect a defended area from threats ranging from Group 1 quadcopters to Group 3 drones, simulating the types of drone threats encountered in conflict zones today.

SAIC’s Valkyrie CUAS technology is shown here on three different ground vehicles. (Image: SAIC)

Addressing DoD’s Current Threats with CUAS

Many agencies wishing to leverage CUAS systems still encounter hurdles in implementing the technology, including budget challenges, policy constraints and public misconceptions. Without a proper understanding of the technology, government leaders, especially military officials, are unable to obtain the proper funds to implement the tech. Additionally, leaders are hesitant to use CUAS systems due to policy constraints of what can and cannot be addressed in certain domains or contested environments. These challenges are worsened by the public’s misconceptions of CUAS technology, which stem from a lack of knowledge of counter-drones and the human operators behind them. However, it’s critical that CUAS advocates continue to press on as offensive drones are being manufactured by the thousands. Defense operators must have the technology in place to combat them if and when they’re targeting the U.S. military.

Today, drones are a clear and present threat, both to service members on the battlefields and to civilians at home. Once the proper resources are secured to implement the tech, it will be essential for the DoD to collaborate with partners to integrate the systems into existing military operations. CUAS has not yet been deployed at the scale it needs to be, but industry partners can help equip service members with the CUAS know-how to improve cross-service understanding of the technology and its capabilities in protecting the nation and its allies.

When considering the various CUAS offerings available today, it’s important to consider how most systems specialize in one aspect of a CUAS mission, such as detection or mitigation but rarely the entire mission. Instead, some of these capabilities are offered through various disparate subsystems that are tasked to work together. Customers must choose between separate limited systems or a tailorable, unique and interoperable solution.

By maintaining seamless collaboration between various elements of a CUAS, operators can in turn maintain command and control of CUAS operations across echelons, helping to improve efficiencies to employ these critical countermeasures. If a customer has different facets of CUAS technology with different vendors there is likely a disconnect between users that can decrease speed to accomplish critical tasks. SAIC’s experts leverage AI/ML integrations to position CUAS as one commercially available command and control system where one operator can manage the mission at hand, while preparing for the threats of tomorrow.

Looking ahead to the future, the threat of adversarial drones will only increase. Drones don’t necessarily recognize geographical borders or boundaries, and to protect service members and citizens from these impending challenges, the U.S. and its allies must look to CUAS technologies and scale effectively throughout their militaries and relevant civilian agencies.

This article was written by Greg Fortier, Senior Vice President, Aviation, Fires, Intel and C2, SAIC (Huntsville, AL). For more information, visit here .