Small, commercial unmanned aerial vehicles pose an imminent threat to sensitive government facilities, but the US Air Force must wait on approval from a complex web of government agencies before moving forward with a drone defense strategy, according to the head of the US Air Force Global Strike Command.
Even with a near-term threat on the horizon, the USAF is proceeding with caution when it comes to fielding a counter-UAV system, Gen. Robin Rand told reporters during the annual Air Force Association conference Monday.
“I think we have the technology solutions, but remember we’re a democracy here,” Rand says. “We are law abiding people and you don’t change the laws without thinking of the ramifications, so you don’t fix one problem and create another.”
Over the past year, counter-UAV systems have emerged as a priority for the US Defense Department. While Rand and head of US Strategic Command Adm Cecil Haney are deep in discussions about a system to protect nuclear assets from small UAVs, the DOD cannot move forward with a solution until several government agencies approve.
“I can tell you, 14 months ago when I took command, we weren’t discussing this,” he says. “After some recent incidents that have happened across government, not just Air Force Global Strike, Adm. Haney and I have had several discussions about this and it’s being worked. In the meantime, we’re asking our airmen to be very vigilant about what they’re doing.”
Technology solutions that combat small UAVs are not in short supply, from Raytheon’s high-powered microwave demonstrator that fries UAV electrics to low- or no-tech solutions, such as the Netherlands’ team of drone-snatching eagles. Last spring, the USAF revealed its urgent need for a handheld device resembling a handgun that could provide an interim solution to counter UAVs at Global Strike Command facilities. The air force called for a system that could not only disrupt UAVs, but passively detect the vehicle’s’ radar frequency signature to track its operator on the ground.