The Best Defense

FoW (23): The biggest growth industry in defense should be counter-drone systems

By Capt. Adam Thomas, USMC
Best Defense future of war entry

There have been a lot of conversation as of late regarding the rise of unmanned systems (UxS) and how they are going to play a large role in future warfare. The proliferation of these future systems is not only going to be used by states but also non-state actors. This is an obvious fact but raises the question, how do we counter such unmanned systems that can be acquired and weaponized by almost anyone? 

With all new technologies there is usually a double-edged sword when it comes to its utility. A basic search on the Internet can allow anyone to find, purchase, and outfit an unmanned system, whether it is an aircraft or ground system, and employ it using their own creative devices. So, back to the original question: How do we combat this proliferating technological capability? There are multiple methods to examine. It depends on whether you want to kill, disable, deny, or take control of the UxS. Future warfare development will have to focus on how to counter these systems because there is no Department of Defense (DOD) monopoly on this technology.

Future adversaries will be capable of utilizing the Internet and mass media to gain visibility and control the message they want the world to see. Due to commercial technologies, they will be highly networked, which will allow them to shape the battlefield quicker than U.S. forces, and they will be able to exploit our own rules of engagement to gain decisive advantages and mass and engage our military on their own terms. Using their own UxS, they will have access to real time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance that will prove lethal if we don't find a way to counter this capability. Research and development within private industry and the DOD has to be seriously focused on a counter-UxS effort if we are to maintain our predominance on future battlefields. 

Capt. Adam Thomas, USMC, is a helicopter pilot who works on counter-unmanned systems projects at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. The views in this post are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Marine Corps.


The Best Defense

Disappointment in USNI's tendentious response to recent item on aircraft carriers

Last week some of you may have noticed that I posted an item criticizing Proceedings, the journal of the U.S. Naval Institute, for running an article by an admiral about how great carriers are, without taking note of all the arguments made recently by others about how carriers may be the battleships of the 21st century -- that is, looking quite powerful but actually being quite vulnerable, and incredibly expensive to build, equip, and operate.

On the day the item ran, Tuesday, I gave Proceedings's editor a heads-up about the item. Since then, I have received a series of complaints and accusations from the journal's publisher and from a retired admiral who is on the USNI board. I invited them to send along a response that I promised to post promptly. Instead, they escalated and started complaining to my editors. "Admiral Timothy J. Keating, USN (Ret.) is a director of the U.S. Naval Institute, and asked that we forward his letter to the editor based on his reaction to a recent Tom Ricks post on Best Defense," wrote Bill Miller, the publisher. "He submitted a comment to the original post that was not published, quite astonishing considering that Ricks railed about one-sided debates in that post." 

Two points here that long-time readers know are true:

  • I welcome dissenting responses, and run lots of them. Indeed, last week I repeatedly asked the USNI people to send me a response. They did not.
  • I have no control over comments on this blog, and don't want to. As I have said before, I am a First Amendment fundamentalist, and I also think that editing out offensive material only helps the offending parties look better. Thus I don't see comments before they are posted. I see them when you do.

Yet the USNI guys persist in believing and asserting that I somehow suppressed Admiral Keating's comment. Indeed, Admiral Keating this morning sent me an e-mail that seems to me to accuse me of quashing it and then lying about it: "We had no opportunity to respond in a timely fashion. I submitted my post within a day, as is reflected in the blog comment queue. You say you didn't receive my post. I would say that bears a closer look."

Normally I wouldn't mention all this behind the scenes wrangling, but Keating's questioning of my integrity pissed me off. I think he probably screwed up posting his comment and is now are trying to pin that on me. But even if he is technologically challenged, that shouldn't have been a problem, because last week I repeatedly asked Miller and his editor, Paul Merzlak, to send me Keating's comment. If Keating couldn't post it, I told them, I would. But they didn't send it.

Given this experience, my opinion of Proceedings continues to decline. And yes, they are welcome to respond to this. They have my e-mail address if they need help.

U.S. Navy