Intelligence failures and intelligence successes.
Israeli sources say that the September 14th drone strike against oil facilities took the Saudis completely by surprise, and that the Americans were also caught off-guard. Early in October US officials, speaking anonymously, said that the US retaliated against the Iranian drone strikes with a cyberattack against Iranian assets, specifically against Tehran's propaganda infrastructure.
A US raid on October 26th caught ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria's Idlib Province. Al-Baghdadi killed himself and, sadly, three of his children as US special operations forces cornered the terrorist leader in a tunnel. According to the Voice of America, US Defense Secretary Esper said "late-breaking actionable intelligence" developed that morning enabled the attack to be executed within hours. What sort of “late-breaking actionable intelligence” Defense Secretary Esper referred to is of course, and quite properly, left unclear. But developing target indicators into targets can be a difficult process, and indicators are often missed.
Operations in the Gulf region underscore the need for effective, persistent surveillance. It's vital not only to operations, but to deterrence as well.
Directed energy counter-drone systems rise in favor.
In October the US Air Force took delivery from Raytheon of a vehicle-mounted laser designed for counter-drone operations. The High-Energy Laser Weapon System (HELWS) is mounted on a Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicle. The Air Force intends to deploy the system into various theaters of operation for field testing.
Leidos is pitching its own directed-energy weapon to the US Army: TIGER ("Time Integrated Gigawatt Electromagnetic Response"), a stand-mounted microwave cone that disrupts small drones. It's designed to be effective against swarms as well as individual UAVs.
Another Army system under development is a 50-kilowatt laser mounted on a Stryker armored vehicle. The Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser (MEHEL) is scheduled to be fielded in a four-vehicle platoon during FY 2020.
The counter-drone mission increasingly looks amenable to being addressed in terms of the traditional air defense principles of mass, mix, and mobility, as the services move toward developing a layered, integrated approach to defending the forces against UAVs. One of those layers may be made of "kamikaze" drone swarms. Such swarms are part of Raytheon's Howler system, which achieved initial operational capability in June.
"Recovering monopolists" and alternative sources of overhead imagery.
Robert Cardillo, who retired as head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in February, talked to C4ISRNET about the cultural challenges involved in accepting commercial satellite imaging services. When he entered the field in the early 1980s, Cardillo said, the Government had a real monopoly of the production, delivery, and analysis of such imagery. That's no longer true, and hasn't been true for some time, but "In their heads, intellectually, we know that we’re not in control of everything, but our muscle memory, our contracting rhythm, our clearance process, is still kind of stuck." The NGA is now a coordinator of multiple imagery streams.
NGA had been responsible for procuring commercial satellite imagery, but in 2017 began transitioning that responsibility to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Among the contracts that have moved to NRO is one with Planet, a subscription that provides daily, unclassified, three-to-five meter images.