Strengthening defence against evolving threats, countering drones

Published 28 May | The Australian Defence Report 2024 | By Andreas Schwer

At a time of conflict in many places around the world, the need for effective defences against drones, or uncrewed aerial systems (UAS), is of critical importance.

The war in Ukraine, the current conflict in the Middle East, and Houthi rebel drone attacks illustrate the need for our Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and equipment to be protected against drone attacks. Not only must they be protected now, but we must also establish mechanisms to stay current with emerging trends in drone technology and employment to ensure that the ADF and Australia’s critical infrastructure are protected during conflict.

The evolution of warfare is relentless, driven by advancements in technology, methods of employment, and the strategic imperatives of the warring sides. We are seeing this now in Ukraine, where Russian and Ukrainian forces are deploying thousands of drones a month in an ever-changing manner to exploit each other’s weaknesses. From reconnaissance and surveillance to precision strikes, UAS have demonstrated their ability to disrupt military operations, inflict significant damage, and force adaptation by military commanders. An excellent example is the recent sidelining of US Abrams tanks in Ukraine due to the perceived risk of drone attacks. Addressing this multifaceted challenge demands a multifaceted response. Militaries must leverage a diverse array of counter-UAS technologies, including kinetic, directed energy and electronic warfare, to neutralise UAS threats effectively. Kinetic solutions such as rockets, missiles and guns offer immediate response to destroy hostile drones on a battlefield, while laser systems provide precision engagement capabilities to disable or destroy UAS with unparalleled speed and accuracy. Additionally, electronic warfare techniques, such as jamming, can disrupt UAS communication networks and navigation systems, rendering them ineffective against our forces.

However, technological prowess alone is insufficient without the seamless integration of government, defence, and industry efforts. A robust partnership between these stakeholders is essential to drive innovation, research, and development of cutting-edge counter-UAS technologies. Close and early collaboration enables rapid prototyping, testing, and deployment of solutions through a continued feedback loop based on real-time battlefield conditions. This cooperation ensures that our military is at the forefront of technological innovation, continuously adapting to emerging threats such as the increase in drone swarm size and automation.

Australia’s defence landscape is not immune to the challenges posed by UAS proliferation. The recently released National Defence Strategy recognises the urgent need for the ADF to bridge existing capability gaps in its counter-UAS capabilities.

Fostering a robust and sovereign Australian defence industry is the key to enhancing our capabilities. Nurturing domestic innovation and expertise addresses our own security needs while also positioning ourselves as a leading exporter of defence technologies to allies and partners worldwide. Exporting a mix of advanced counter-UAS solutions to countries like Ukraine not only strengthens their defences but also reinforces strategic partnerships and keeps the ADF at the forefront of technology and tactical employment.

Countering the evolving threat posed by UAS requires a holistic and collaborative approach between government, defence, and industry to harness the full spectrum of technological capabilities.

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