GOP rep presses Air Force on counter-drone tech

GOP rep presses Air Force on counter-drone tech
© Greg Nash

A Republican lawmaker is urging the Air Force to fast-track the development of anti-drone technology amid the fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“It is my firm belief that we must expedite the development and acquisition of this technology due to the Islamic State’s use of commercial [unmanned aerial systems], as well as the potential for UAS use among other hostile actors,” California Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on Wednesday.

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The letter comes after ISIS killed two Kurdish fighters and injured two French paratroopers in Iraq earlier this month using a plastic foam drone rigged with explosives.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS said the United States is “working really hard to come up with solutions” to ISIS attaching explosives to drones.

“Our government has recently fielded several systems, very high priority fielding programs,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. “Other coalition partners are also fielding their programs here in concert with ours. And we're going to try them out here in the field to see how well they work. And we have solutions right now that can work, and we're trying to find better solutions for this pretty thorny problem.”

ISIS mainly uses drones for surveillance and reconnaissance, he said, but recently got “a bit more creative” and started dropping small explosives into partner forces’ positions using drones.

The explosives haven’t had a “great effect,” he said, but guidance has been put out for forces to be on guard.

“We expect to see more of this,” Townsend said.

In his letter, Hunter requested a briefing on efforts to develop and field technology to counter the drones.

He specifically highlighted developing and deploying directed-energy weapons. Those types of weapons emit highly focused energy, such as a laser.

“This is especially necessary given the accessibility and affordability of UASs in the commercial marketplace and the relative ease of configuring explosives to unmanned platforms,” he wrote.

Hunter also expressed concerns for the ability to use such drones in terrorist attacks in the United States.

“While this incident occurred amid operations in Iraq,” he wrote, “I am no less concerned about the use of this method by the Islamic State, and other actors, to launch domestic attacks against soft targets.”