A senior commander of America's top special operations units is worried that small commercially-available unmanned aerial vehicles pose an increasing threat to his commandos on operations around the world.
Drones aren't just for killing tangos in Pakistan anymore. (YouTube Screenshot: Aerial Videos Photos)
During a conference on special operations hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association in Maryland, the deputy commander of Joint Special Operations Command — which oversees some of the United States' most secretive operations using Delta Force, SEAL Team 6 and other clandestine units — said the Super Bowl halftime show Feb. 5 deepened his concern.
"I'm sure many of you saw the Super Bowl halftime show where Lady Gaga was at the top of the stadium and ... there was that interesting pattern in the sky that ... was a formation of quadcopters, or drones, that were lit and were making that pattern in the sky," said JSOC deputy chief Air Force Maj. Gen. Greg Lengyel during the Feb. 14 conference.
"A 'swarm' used for entertainment purposes. There's many other purposes that that can be used for as well," he added.
Deputy JSOC commander Maj. Gen. Greg Lengyel worries that commercial drones can easily be turned into military ones. (US Military photo)
During Gaga's show, 300 specially-built drones illuminated with colored LEDs created a pattern of an American flag and a Pepsi logo in the sky above Houston's NRG Stadium. Dubbed "Shooting Stars," the drones were built by Intel for light shows and are programmed to fly into specific patterns.
That problem as Lengyel sees it, is that such drone technology is readily available to America's terrorist adversaries and puts his forces at risk.
"It is a vulnerability to a military that has not been attacked from the air by enemy forces since the Korean War," Lengyel said. "And now we run the risk of being attacked from the air by enemy forces by a drone you can get off the discount shelf at TJ Max."
According to Pentagon officials, U.S. and Iraqi forces fighting Islamic State militants in both Syria and Iraq have been targeted by terrorist drones. Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Feb. 7 that Iraqi forces fighting in Mosul have encountered small drones dropping grenades from the sky "at least once a day."
A captured ISIS drone on the battlefield. (Photo from Iraq Ministry of Defense)
Several months ago, Defense officials claimed ISIS flew an IED-rigged drone into an Iraqi basecamp that was was detonated when soldiers tried to recover it. Dubbed "Trojan Horse" drones, senior commanders have been looking for ways to counter low-tech UAVs on the battlefield.
"We expect to see more of this, and we've put out procedures for our forces to be on guard for this," one commander said, adding that U.S. troops and others have downed many drones harassing coalition troops with small arms fire and electronic means, "with varying levels of success."
Some companies have created drone-killing systems cobbled together from former IED-hunting components. But others believe ultimately the way to shoot down low-cost drones is with other low-cost drones.
"We've made incredible advances in UAS technology that we can exploit, as well as our adversary is exploiting," Lengyel said.