May 15, 2024

Countering the growing threat of cheap drones: a challenge for militaries worldwide


Uncrewed Systems pose a significant, and prolific threat across the globe. Virtually every conflict over the last 5 years has shown that Uncrewed Systems can be used to project asymmetrical force against militaries, critical infrastructure, facilities, and entire countries at an incredibly low cost. Existing air defense systems are generally exquisite and expensive solutions developed for high-precision threat deterrence.

No country will be able to sustain the use of high-value defense systems to counter attacks from low-cost uncrewed systems for a long time.  The numbers simply don’t work when enemy forces can deploy hundreds or thousands of cheap uncrewed systems for a fraction of the cost to defeat those systems. As Unmanned capabilities become even cheaper and more prolific defending against them will increase in both priority and effort – especially with the lessons learned from Ukraine and Israel. For example, sources estimate Israel spent somewhere between $550m-$1.5b+ to intercept Iran’s drones and missiles.

The critical need for counter-drone solutions with a lower per-unit cost has driven a sharp increase in tech development and experimentation between industry and government stakeholders. What DoD and Global Defense Ministries are grappling with more than anything is to effectively integrate existing capabilities and systems with new and less costly countermeasures. One challenge is integrating fire-control systems to work collaboratively as opposed to engaging targets in an uncoordinated way. Options are likely to include such possibilities as directed energy or laser weapons rather than kinetics only.

In a continuing effort by all the services to reign in C-UAS costs and find more reliable and efficient ways to beat the increasingly prolific threat the Navy is holding a test of two counter-drone systems.  Though not identifying the systems by name, the Navy intends to evaluate the capabilities of these systems to place them on the Arleigh Burke-class Destroyers controlled via Aegis.  Referring to the systems only as “A” and “B” the Navy intends to rapidly integrate one of these systems which appear via briefing slides to be mounted launchers on the vessel’s stern and determine which of the two is most effective against small, unmanned threats.  According to reports both systems already are in use by at least one sister service and data derived from operational testing will be incorporated into the overall assessment.

BCE analysts have discussed this initiative with senior Navy officials as well as those working with the C-UAS senior steering group and expect that once a preferred system is chosen the Navy will move rapidly to engineer its availability to a wide variety of ships.  The BCE team discussed the effort and anticipated priority placement on ships operating in the Red Sea where the unmanned threat is a significant and daily occurrence.  No timetable for selection has been established but if the threat level is sustained we expect this to be a top priority for RDT&E efforts in 2024.

Additionally, our global A&D leaders have discussed C-UAS efforts directly with other U.S. and with NATO defense and industry partners so we can integrate these view points into our market models and into our strategy work for clients.


Global A&D

Robyn Pirie
Manager Boston
Craig Belanger
Senior Partner & Co-Founder Boston
Anirudh Suneel
Principal London
Ben Osterholtz
Manager Boston
Joe Giandomenico
Principal Boston
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