Written by: Jeremee Alexander, USAF (Ret) – Liteye Systems, Business Development – Defense Solutions
When a U.S. Army general warns that drone swarm attacks may be too fast for humans to stop, it’s time to listen.
“When you are defending against a drone swarm, a human may be required to make that first decision, but I am just not sure any human can keep up,” Gen. John Murray, head of Army Futures Command, told a Center for Strategic & International Studies conference in January 2021.
Murray voiced fears shared by many experts: that swarms of hundreds or thousands of drones could overwhelm existing counter-UAS systems.
Saturating enemy defenses with mass firepower – whether arrows or artillery shells – is not a new concept. The drone swarms are a new kind of threat. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and tactical datalinks enable hordes of drones to operate in a coordinated fashion to confuse and steamroller counter-UAS system. Even worse, machines can exchange information and execute decisions at speeds that humans can’t hope to match.
Liteye’s SHIELD Multi-Mission Multi-Domain Protection System
SHIELD, the new counter-UAS system from Liteye, tackles this complex problem by simplifying the solution. Rather than throwing more information and options at already-overtaxed human operators, SHIELD autonomously handles most of the workload so that operators only need to make one decision: whether to pull the trigger.
Using AI and machine learning, SHIELD can automatically detect and identify drone swarms and other threats. The integrated system recommends and cues kinetic and non-kinetic effectors to stop them. “We can essentially detect and then track a threat, and then based on various factors, recommend a certain type of defeat mechanism, whether it’s an RF [radio frequency] jammer or some kinetic type of system,” says Ryan Hurt, Liteye’s Vice President of Business Development.
A drone swarm can make a thousand decisions in the time that a human operator needs to make one. SHIELD is based on the only logical option: matching the speed of offensive AI with the speed of defensive AI.
“We’re putting a man in the loop for a defeat decision. By letting the system respond at machine speed for the majority of the kill chain rates increase,” Hurt says. “We’re anticipating threats over the next 5 to 10 years, autonomous drone swarms communicating and retargeting among themselves at machine speed. And an operator in the loop is not going to be able to keep up with something like that.”
It’s not that existing counter-UAS systems don’t work. Some allow targets to be engaged in a matter of a few seconds. Which might be fast enough when the threat is a few medium or large drones, but too slow when a thousand small drones blot the horizon like locusts.
Current defense systems require the operator to continually switch their attention from target to target. Move to identifying the threat and then deciding which countermeasure to employ. “The operator has to do this step by step,” says Hurt. “Is that object in the camera a bird or a drone? Which RF jammer should I use? Which drone in the swarm is the biggest threat?”
Yet this is precisely the vulnerability that swarm tactics are designed to exploit: the finite limits of human energy and concentration. But computers lack judgment and intuition, especially for that crucial decision of whether to use force. SHIELD allows humans to do what they do best: being human.