US lawmakers raise concerns about enemy swarms
Worried that the US Navy’s surface ships might be vulnerable to hostile swarms of drones or other unmanned systems, a congressional panel is calling on the service to take a closer look at how it would defend its vessels against such attacks.
The House Armed Services Committee approved legislation on 12 June calling on the navy to give Congress a report on the extent of the swarm threat and how it plans to protect its ships now and in the future.
‘The committee is concerned that the navy may be assuming too much risk with respect to the development of swarm tactics by adversaries,’ the panel wrote.
The legislation, which seeks the navy report by 1 January, 2021, came in the form of an amendment that Rep Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, offered during deliberations on the FY2020 defence authorisation bill.
Moulton’s amendment asks the navy to describe its current counter-swarm technologies, whether they be ‘kinetic means, electronic warfare or directed energy.’ It also seeks an outline of future requirements, including ‘the capability of adding additional systems onto the hull of a surface combatant ship, both large and small, to enhance lethality against swarm and other threats.’
At the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, in February, Moulton, an Iraq War veteran and former US Marine Corps officer, urged the navy to focus less on the number of ships it will buy and more on the capabilities those ships will provide against potential adversaries.
Various media and think-tank reports indicate that China’s military is experimenting with swarms of UAVs, USVs and UUVs to stymie American forces in a potential war. For example, according to a November 2017 report by the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, the People’s Liberation Army ‘may seek to use swarms to target and saturate the defences of US aircraft carriers.’
US defence contractors are developing tools to counter this growing threat. For instance, in a December 2017 demonstration at the US Army’s Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Raytheon shot down 45 UAVs with a high-energy laser and a high-power microwave system. The microwave system downed two or three drones at a time, the company said.
Asked to comment on Moulton’s amendment and the issues it raises, a navy spokesman declined, noting that the overall defence bill is still moving through Congress.
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