As the proliferation of commercially available drones intensifies around the world, with enemy forces including ISIS using the unmanned systems to spy on and attack U.S. troops, the Marine Corps is still in the hunt for the right weapon to defend against the new threat.
Speaking at Defense One’s annual Tech Summit in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Col. Che Bolden, assistant chief of staff operations, plans and governmental affairs for Marine Corps Installations Command, said drone countermeasures present a complex challenge for military officials.
“It’s growing worse every day with the proliferation of commercial off-the-shelf technology,” said Bolden, former commander of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2. “We’re in the process of developing concepts to address that. The materiel solution — we haven’t discovered that yet.”
The Marine Corps has to date invested cautiously in a number of emerging drone-fighting technologies. In April, the service contracted with counter-unmanned aerial system company Sensofusion to develop a technology known as AIRFENCE, supposed to create a defensive perimeter against enemy drones using radio frequencies.
The service has already conducted field tests with a rifle-like weapon made by Battelle called DroneDefender, which can be aimed at individual drones to immobilize or take control of them. However, the Corps has not publicly indicated whether it intends to invest more heavily in that technology.
Part of the challenge, Bolden said, is that the problem may call for more than one defense strategy.
“Point defense is different than area defense is different than just mitigations,” he said. “But I come from the installations world right now, where we have to worry about protecting bases and installations. That’s a lot of storefront to protect. You can’t at any given time be able to just surveil the entire sky or the ground or the subterranean areas. So those are other areas we have to consider.”
For domestic operations and defense, the Corps is not interested in pursuing more restrictive drone legislation, even if such laws would allay certain challenges.
“The more you put those things into place against the bad aspects of this technology, we limit ourselves with all the good things this technology can do,” he said. “So … coming from where I sit, we’re looking for advantages and opportunities that we can use unmanned and autonomous systems for. The regulations need to allow for that.”
Though the technology is complex and its operational challenges daunting, Bolden said he doesn’t think the Marine Corps needs to recruit smarter or more skilled Marines because of that. Marine recruits today, he said, are adept at using developing technology and can be taught to see tools such as UASs as “an extension of themselves” to achieve results on the battlefield.
“I’m not worried about whether we have the right type of people to do it; I’m worried about whether we’re putting them in the right positions, giving them the right tools and giving them the right training to be able to employ these things the right way,” he said. “And the latitude to figure out what we just don’t know.”