For a lot of people, drones are like marmite; you either love them or hate them. People have often complained that these drones have invaded their personal space, with Richard Madeley (of Richard and Judy fame) stated he even considering taking down the eye in the sky with an air rifle (we don’t recommend you do this by the way!).
But for the military, commercially available drones can pose much more of a threat than they do to Joe Public; one which they have never had to face before.
To combat this new threat, Marines have engaged in realistic battlefield training which included target practice using quad-copter drones.
The training was part of a massive West Coast exercise known as Steel Knight, which spanned the best part of last month, including five major events ranging from force-on-force training and long-range raids.
The exercise required Marines from 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion to use quad-copter UAVs – the kind you can pick up from many retailers – to simulate a realistic battlefield scenario.
During the live-fire section of the exercise, the troops practiced shooting the drones down with an M240 mounted machine guns.
The commander of 1st LAR’s D Company, Capt. Adam Unkle, spoke about why they were taking such measures during an interview with Military.com, in which he said the following:
“It was like, okay, these commercial drones that any Joe off the street can buy, can we shoot them down, what does that look like. Can we pick them up through our sights, and everything else like that? And we were able to.”
The U.S. Military have also purchased a small number of DroneDefenders, which are a highly sophisticated system that uses frequency interference to take control of drones and bring them back to the ground unharmed. This may sound like a better solution, but training to eliminate the threat posed by drones with conventional weapons gives the Marines more options in a combat situation.
It soon became time for the UAVs to switch roles with the Marines, becoming the hunters as opposed to the prey. In this exercise, 1st LAR Marines were pitted against their sister unit, 3rd LAR Marines, in an operation to hide out from the prying eyes of the drones – using old-school concealment techniques.
Using low-tech tools including camouflage netting, cheap thermal blankets and natural vegetation, the Marines were able to hide from the drones and the troops operating them.
In all, it was reported that the 1st LAR troops were able to stay hidden for 36 hours in 12 vehicles and dismounted hide positions. Capt. Adam Unkle gave a brief overview of how his troops were able to stay hidden from the drones:
“We took the cammie net that we put over the top of our positions, tied the thermal blanket on top of it, and eliminated the heat signature. Innovation-wise, that was something that wasn’t in the publication that we just came up with. A cheap solution.”
It turns out that the idea to use thermal emergency blankets – the kind handed out to runners after long races – came from a corporal in D company.
The use of commercial drones in the latest Steel Knight is a first for the exercise, but also reflects the emphasis of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller’s emphasis on the use of new technology to dominate the battlefield.
At last year’s Modern Day Marine Expo, he unveiled plans to equip all Marine infantry squads with quad-copters to be used for reconnaissance. This cheap tool will then help to give soldiers better awareness of their surroundings while deployed.
Unkle also stated that the exercise gave Marines the opportunity to dig through old reconnaissance publications about old-fashioned concealment and evasion techniques that are once again increasing in relevance as Marines train against a technologically sophisticated enemy.
As for the on-the-spot idea of using a thermal blanket to counter a complex threat, Unkle said he liked that way of thinking as it reflects the “scrappy way” of operating that the Marines are well known for.