A surprise drone attack that took out nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production and blindsided global markets last year is just the kind of thing that keeps Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey up at night. Gen. Gainey, commander of the Defense Department’s new Joint Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems Office, is the Pentagon’s point man in countering the rapidly growing threat from foreign drones, responsible for coordinating a crucial 21st-century anti-drone strategy across the country’s military services. With allies, major rivals such as China, and even hostile powers like Iran closing the gap with the U.S. on drone technology, the Army general and his 60-person team face one of the most daunting challenges confronting American national security today. “This threat can touch anybody, anywhere,” Gen. Gainey told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview this week. “We’re trying to get after the whole spectrum, from training through material solutions,” he said. “We have to ensure our soldiers have the best capability against that threat.” In the wide-ranging interview, Gen. Gainey detailed his office’s approach to protecting American military forces stationed around the world from enemy drone attacks. He described the growing momentum behind the idea of consolidating anti-drone capabilities across the services, rather than relying on the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Space Force to mount and maintain their own programs. Gen. Gainey assumed his new post in January, just four months after a swarm of low-flying drones slipped past Saudi Arabia’s sophisticated air defense systems and devastated two state-owned oil processing plants at Abqaiq and Khurais. Houthi forces in Yemen, battling a Saudi-backed coalition in that country’s civil war, claimed responsibility, but Washington and Riyadh both saw the hand of Iran in the attack. Not only did the September 2019 attack temporarily cut the oil production in one of the world’s biggest suppliers by half, it showed the world what some believe is the future of combat — and demonstrated how America’s once-inarguable advantage in drone warfare may be eroding. Dozens of countries across the globe — from major international powers such as China, Russia, Israel and the United Kingdom to nations such as Nigeria, Belarus and Indonesia — either have armed drones in their military arsenals or have invested heavily in programs to develop them. A South Korean think tank estimated in 2017 that the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had stockpiled upwards of 1,000 drones that analysts fear could be used to deliver chemical or biological weapons across the divided peninsula. Iran’s Defense Ministry, whose experience with drones dates back to the 1980s war with Iraq, last month took the wraps off a large arsenal of new drones for the army and air force, drones that Tehran says have the range to hit Israel.
The Pentagon has deployed drones to spy over U.S. territory for non-military missions over the past decade, but the flights have been rare and lawful, according to a new report. The report by a Pentagon inspector general, made public under a Freedom of Information Act request, said spy drones on non-military missions have occurred fewer than 20 times between 2006 and 2015 and always in compliance with existing law. The report, which did not provide details on any of the domestic spying missions, said the Pentagon takes the issue of military drones used on American soil “very seriously.” A senior policy analyst for the ACLU, Jay Stanley, said it is good news no legal violations were found, yet the technology is so advanced that it’s possible laws may require revision. “Sometimes, new technology changes so rapidly that existing law no longer fit what people think are appropriate,” Stanley said. “It’s important to remember that the American people do find this to be a very, very sensitive topic.” The use of unmanned aerial surveillance (UAS) drones over U.S. surfaced in 2013 when then-FBI director Robert Mueller testified before Congress that the bureau employed spy drones to aid investigations, but in a “very,very minimal way, very seldom.” The inspector general analysis was completed March 20, 2015, but not released publicly until last Friday. It said that with advancements in drone technology along with widespread military use overseas, the Pentagon established interim guidance in 2006 governing when and whether the unmanned aircraft could be used domestically. The interim policy allowed spy drones to be used for homeland defense purposes in the U.S. and to assist civil authorities. But the policy said that any use of military drones for civil authorities had to be approved by the Secretary of Defense or someone delegated by the secretary. The report found that defense secretaries have never delegated that responsibility. The report quoted a military law review article that said “the appetite to use them (spy drones) in the domestic environment to collect airborne imagery continues to grow, as does Congressional and media interest in their deployment.” Military units that operate drones told the inspector general they would like more opportunities to fly them on domestic missions if for no other reason than to give pilots more experience to improve their skills, the report said. “Multiple units told us that as forces using the UAS capabilities continue to draw down overseas, opportunities for UAS realistic training and use have decreased,” the report said. A request for all cases between 2006 and 2015 in which civil authorities asked the military for use of spy drones produced a list of “less than twenty events,” the report said. The list included requests granted and denied. The list was not made public in the report. But a few examples were cited, including one case in which an unnamed mayor asked the Marine Corps to use a drone to find potholes in the mayor’s city. The Marines denied the request because obtaining the defense secretary’s “approval to conduct a UAS mission of this type did not make operational sense.” Shortly before the inspector general report was completed a year ago, the Pentagon issued a new policy governing the use of spy drones. It requires the defense secretary to approve all domestic spy drone operations. It says that unless permitted by law and approved by the secretary, drones “may not conduct surveillance on U.S. persons.” It also bans the use of armed drones over the United States for anything other than training and testing.
While some homeowners are turning to shotguns to deal with unwanted drones, federal agencies and law enforcement lack the necessary technology to deal with this increasing menace. However, thanks to Battelle Innovations and its new DroneDefender, law enforcement now has an anti-drone system designed to disable a drone without blasting it out the sky. The new DroneDefender uses radio pulses to disable a hostile drone within a 400 meter radius. These pulses interrupt the communication system of the drone, making it think it is out-of-range. The drone’s safety protocols then kick in, forcing the drone to either hover, return to its point of origin, or descend slowly as it prepares to land. Because the weapon jams communication with the nearby operator, the DroneDefender also can prevent detonation and other remote functions. The radio jamming system is mounted to a gun chassis which makes the anti-drone weapon lightweight (10 lbs or less) and easy-to-use. It is designed to fire within 0.1 seconds of startup and can operate for five hours straight. Not only is this system efficient, this rifle-like design also is familiar to the DroneDefender’s targeted audience — government agencies and law enforcement. Known for its ability to transform technology breakthroughs into useful hardware and services for both government and commercial customers, Battelle Innovations developed the DroneDefender using its in-house expertise that spans both military and technology applications. The company plans to begin selling the DroneDefender in 2016 and already has several federal agencies interested in obtaining the anti-drone weapon when it’s released next year. Though it will be available to government agencies in the US and overseas, it won’t be available for consumer use stateside, as it currently operates on non-consumer frequencies controlled by the FCC. Drones have moved from military darling to consumer item in the last few years, with applications ranging from entertainment to video capture to sheep-herding tool. But despite the popularity of GoPro-enabled models that follow you down the slopes and record your every mogul and wipeout, it’s clear the military aspects remain items to watch.
Indeed.. Just wish I could get one of these! 🙂
I don’t think they can do this…not yet anyway. Interesting article..
Great.. the jack booted thugs at the EPA now have drones.. ..and a friend in the White House.
Pretty disturbing. Some good advice here for protecting yourself from this sorta thing.