US Air Force Mobility Fleet Seeks Industry’s Help for Carrying On-board Defences Against Small Drones

Foreign Affairs

Washington: The US Air Force is asking industry for help for potentially carrying defensive systems aboard mobility aircraft that can fend off small drones.

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According to a request for information (RFI) released by the service, it’s interested in “concepts and technologies related to an on-aircraft Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft System (C-sUAS) capability.” The RFI was posted by Air Mobility Command, or AMC, which oversees operations of tankers and transport aircraft — slower, larger platforms typically more vulnerable to enemy attack.

Referring to the Pentagon’s “Group” system for classifying drones, with 1 being the smallest and 5 the largest, the RFI says that “Group 1 and 2 UAS are of primary interest, with an objective capability for Group 3 UAS.” The notice says that a “primary interest” is to field defences “during critical phases of fixed-wing flight operations below 16,000 feet,” though the effort also seeks capabilities that can defend aircraft during ground operations, such as taxiing.

Mobility aircraft already carry defensive systems, such as flares and laser jammers, to defeat threats like missiles. But the proliferation of drone warfare and increasing civilian use of unmanned systems appears to be motivating the Air Force to field new defences against UAS threats, particularly as officials warn that adversaries like China could exploit vulnerabilities in logistics operations.

Mobility aircraft can sometimes rely on robust base defences, notes a separate concept of operations (CONOPS) published alongside the RFI, but the prospect of austere operations means crews may have to carry C-sUAS capabilities with them.

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