Over the past several years, the Corps has been rapidly testing and acquiring systems to take on air threats — a problem that last existed for the Marines during the Cold War.
Systems now in the Corps’ air defense arsenal include the Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar, which can detect cruise missiles, air threats, and a host of other incoming projectiles.
And the Corps is still developing a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle or Humvee mounted air defense system that can use a range of capabilities from stinger missiles, electronic attack or directed energy to blast drones out of the sky.
The air defense equipment is vital to Marine Corps near-peer competition in contested environments.
On Thursday, during a hearing at the House Armed Service Committee, Marine leaders told lawmakers that they were also looking at drones that can kill other drones to bolster the Corps’ air defense capabilities.
Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, the deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, told lawmakers that the miniaturization of tech was helping provide capabilities like “precision-guided munitions that can be launched and hover and loiter at great distances,” to “small UASs [unmanned aircraft system] that can counter other UASs, that we can certainly launch from a manportable system.”
Whether that system will employ kinetic or electronic attack to take down enemy drones was not clear during Thursday’s hearing, but the Corps has been experimenting with a range of loitering drone munitions capable of carrying different payloads.
The threat of swarming drones has become an ever-growing threat, which Rudder characterized Thursday as a “great concern,” especially as even small terror and militia groups have managed to weaponize small commercial drones.
The military has taken serious note of the issue and pumped considerable effort and experimentation into finding unique ways to knock drones out of the sky.
Some of those systems, like the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System, which uses a pair of Polaris MRZRs to track and shut down drones with electronic attack, have already deployed with the 22nd and 13th Marine Expeditionary Units.
The Corps also has looked at a slew of shoulder-fired or manportable gun-like systems that can use electronic warfare, and a system that fires a net at incoming drones. These systems were tested just last year at the Corps’ experimental Urban ANTX exercise aboard Camp Pendleton, California.
But the Corps appears to be pushing away from some of these manportable systems.
Lt. Gen. David Berger, the commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told lawmakers Thursday that experimentation with man portable systems “have not panned out.”
Those systems would add considerable weight and potentially additional battery requirements for grunts at a time when the Corps is working hard at cutting the load of infantry Marines already burdened with new tech.
Berger was recently nominated to become the 38th commandant of the Marine Corps.