Air Defense: Quadcopters Eat Laser And Die


May 10, 2017: The U.S. Army recently completed field testing the MEHEL (Mobile High Energy Laser) Syryker, yet another American AUD (Anti UAV Defense) weapon. This 18 ton wheeled armored vehicle is equipped with a 5 KW laser and a 12.7mm machine-gun. The machine-gun has a range (against small targets) of 2,000 meters. The laser has about the same range but is more accurate and makes no sound and that is important in preventing the enemy from finding out where the MEHEL vehicle is. In addition to the laser the MEHEL vehicle carries a number of electronic systems for detecting and jamming commercial UAVs.

The MEHEL is the latest of many responses to the growing (since 2016) number of Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria using commercial UAVs, especially quad-copters, on a large scale. Some of these UAVs have been equipped with an explosive payload and sent on one-way trips to attack a target. But most of them were used for reconnaissance and surveillance and in that role they were expected to come back. As American countermeasures for this began arriving in Iraq the Islamic terrorists tried to adapt and often succeeded briefly.

The jammers and other electronic detection devices used by AUD systems have been showing up in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Some AUDs mainly detect UAVs and either jam or take over the control signal and capture (by making it land) the UAV. What troops were asking for were AUD systems that used lasers and better UAV detection systems as well those with jammers to disable UAVs. These AUDS can be defeated if a user sends a small UAV off on a pre-programmed mission. This can be to take photos or deliver a small explosive. Usually it is to take photos and return. MEHEL is equipped to detect and locate UAVs operating in pre-programmed mode and destroy or disable them quietly with the laser.

American forces have already been using an older technique to locate where the UAV operators are and hit them with artillery or an airstrike. This meant using a system they developed back in 2005. That involved a JSTARS radar aircraft tracking where the attackers went after an attack or setting up a roadside bomb. This was often easy to do because many of the attacks took place in sparely populated places and bombs were placed at night. JSTARS could track vehicles on the ground over a wide area and record that information. For example, a single JSTARS can cover all of central Iraq, although its ground radar can only track a smaller area. The JSTARS radar has two modes: wide area (showing a 25 by 20 kilometer area) and detailed (4,000 by 5,000 meters). The radar can see out to several hundred kilometers and each screen full of information could be saved and brought back later to compare to another view (to see what has moved). In this manner operators could track movement of ground units over a wide area. Operators could also use the detail mode to pick out specific details of what's going on down there, like tracking the movement of vehicles fleeing the scene of an ambush or after setting up a roadside bomb. JSTARS is really good at picking up trucks moving along highways on flat terrain. JSTARS can stay up there for over 12 hours at a time, and two or more JSTARS can operate in shifts to provide 24/7 coverage. Until U.S. troops left in 2011 there was always at least one JSTARS operating in Iraq. Islamic terrorists never came up with a successful counter for this particular technique and the existence of this capability severely limited Islamic terrorist bomb planting operations.

A variant on this was applied in Iraq and Syria when the Islamic terrorist UAVs were sent out on automatic. There are other ways to spot and track these small UAVs and with that the UAVs could be tracked to where they came from and that location was then either put under surveillance or bombed. It didn’t take ISIL veterans (especially those who had been active during the earlier 2005-8 campaign) to figure out why their UAV “bases” were being discovered and attacked. So new techniques were developed, at least by the few ISIL groups still operating.




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