The battlefield is going hi-tech. This is how soldiers in Iraq are countering the threat of drones
Having completed the pacification eastern Mosul in the initial push to retake the largest city under the Islamic State’s control, last month Iraqi forces began their assault into the western half of the city, waging a bloody campaign of liberation.
Among the many dangers facing coalition fighters as they crossed the river was the buzz of IS drones hovering from above. Using them for a combination of intelligence and bomb dropping missions, IS militants are having an outsized effect in harrasing the Iraqi forces.
While some of their devices have been homemade, a large number of their drones are actually consumer products fitted with makeshift adaptations for dropping grenades. Photographs from the field show a mixture of DJI Phantoms among the drones that have been shot out of the air while attempting to harm soldiers and civilians.
Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition tells Geektime that, “The enemy UAS threat is significant in that they can attack ground forces and civilians with UAS-dropped munitions … usually grenade-sized or equivalent.”
The threat of harm from above has added to the threat of vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), regular old IEDS, and snipers. Recent reports have also indicated that US bombing runs may have accounted for significant numbers of civilian casualties in the area of operations.
However, the threat appears to be heavily psychological as they can appear at any moment, similar to mortar rounds. Col Dorrian points out that despite the fear that the IS drones have instilled, “The enemy’s capability is not a strategic-level threat in that it will not change the outcome of the Battle of Mosul. Indeed, the enemy is resorting to commercial off the shelf UAS systems because they do not have freedom of movement.”
So what are the coalition forces using to counter the drones on the battlefield? Without going into detail, Col. Dorrian tells Geektime that “we employ a variety of systems to mitigate the threat.”
Thanks to photography from the front and a variety of reports that have popped up in recent weeks, we can take a crack at which kinds of technologies are being used in the field. The primary thrust of this effort has focused not on net guns and trained eagles, but on electronic warfare. These devices are geared at taking control of or disrupting the drones from their controllers, forcing them to either land in place or return to their owners. In the case of the later, this can prove advantageous for the coalition forces that can easily send over not only the bomb carrying drone, but an additional present from a friendly mortar team based on the trajectory of flight.
The infantryman’s countermeasure
Geektime has previously detailed DroneShield’s DroneGun which is in use for both the private market as well as with various state-run actors.
In Iraq, the US military appears to be working with Battelle’s DroneDefender as the weapon of choice for American ground troops. Looking a little bit like a space rifle, this weapon utilizes radio frequencies and GPS to help the user bring down the enemy drone.
With a range of 400 meters, this relatively easy to carry unit (stated as up to 15 lbs) includes an optical sight to help with aiming at the flying target. Its manufacturer, the Ohio-based Battelle, says that it can operate for up to five hours of continuous use, meaning that it should hold out for a number of days during an operation.
As Mosul is one of the first battles (as far as we know) to demand countermeasures to drones by US forces, it is unlikely to be the last. Moving forward, the DroneDefender will likely make its way into the platoon or company level units as part of the standard issue bits of equipment, alongside anti-tank weapons and the like. For the sake of the soldiers in the field, let’s just hope that these rifles get smaller and lighter.
The heavy artillery
Breaking out the big guns is the AUDS Anti-UAV Defense System from Blighter. A combination of their A400 series air security radar that can detect a buzzing drone at 10 kilometers, and the Enterprise Control System that can take down the offending object through a manipulation of the radio frequencies.
Blighter AUDS Counter-UAV system mounted on U.S. FMTV truck outside Mosul: pic.twitter.com/CKdUzEfMMd
— Alex Mello (@AlexMello02) March 11, 2017
These bad boys are way too heavy to be carried for street combat but work perfectly for mounting on vehicles as seen above. There have also been images of similar systems being set up on newly captured buildings.
What is interesting here beyond their ability to drop the drones like a bad habit, is the emphasis on a solid detection system. There has been an explosion in the market recently, especially for places like prisons, sports arenas, sensitive sites, and other locations that want to know if a drone is approaching them. Tuning the radars to pick up the small signatures of a drone is indeed an accomplishment.
It should come as no surprise that Iran has stepped up their drone countermeasure game. While the inspiration for their research was more likely led with thoughts of how to take out American or Israeli devices, the Iranian device has been photographed during military exercises.
Conflict News’ Derek Bisaccio caught this post from Tasnim News Service.
— Derek Bisaccio (@DerekBisaccio) December 12, 2016
While getting details on this device are obviously harder to attain than the US manufacturers, we can assume that the concept is fairly similar. The most glaring difference is the fact that it only has one antenna. Whereas the American versions are able to work on different frequencies as well as GPS for the military purposes, it is possible that the Iranian device is less developed.
Iran has significant influence already with the Shia government and militias that are leading much of the fighting in Iraq. It would follow that drone countermeasure devices would be making their way to the field alongside the advisors and other materials. Afterall, why miss a great opportunity for field testing.