Drone and counter-drone.
Tensions in the Gulf region remained high this past month. Iran became increasingly active interfering with shipping in the region--the seizure of a British-flagged tanker amounting to Tehran's most serious provocation. The British government organized talks with the US and France about a multinational mission to secure shipping in the Straits of Hormuz. For its part, Iranian authorities exhibited little disposition to soothe tensions, suggesting that should circumstances warrant, it would not hesitate to seize other vessels in the region.
Both the US and Iran have been operating drones in the region. Iran shot down a US RQ-4 Global Hawk in international airspace on June 20th without warning. The US apparently responded with cyberattacks against Iranian intelligence and missile command-and-control units.
On July 18th an Iranian drone was taken down. The US destroyed an Iranian drone that approached too closely to the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship operating in the region. Boxer downed the drone using the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS), developed and fielded rapidly in 2015 as ground-deployable counter-drone system. It's truck-mounted, carried on two Polaris MRZR light all-terrain vehicles, one a command vehicle, the other carrying the electronic countermeasures. The system aboard USS Boxer was simply parked on the flight deck. LMADIS combines radars, jammers, a Stinger air defense missile launcher on some variants, and threat assessment subsystems. Iran denied losing any drones, but the US claims seem well-confirmed.
The drone takedown is said to have been a non-kinetic kill; that is, no missiles or guns were fired. Some reports have called it a directed-energy kill, but electronic attack would be a better description: electronic interference with the drone's command-and-control by the system's Sierra Nevada Modi II electronic countermeasures subsystem causing the drone to crash. As USNI News puts it, the Navy took out the aircraft not by expending an air defense missile, but with a device whose cost of operation was "the cost of a tank of gas." LMADIS was developed and fielded rapidly, integrating relatively mature standalone subsystems.
Both the Marine Corps and the Army are working on CLaWS, the Compact Laser Weapon System, designed to give systems like LMADIS a laser capable of destroying drones at ranges of hundreds of meters. The Air Force is also working on drone-defense systems for base defense. Some involve electronic countermeasures, others involve nets that can be deployed from 40mm projectiles. The Army has begun using counter-drone systems in training rotations at the National Training Center. This indicates that, while the systems were developed and fielded rapidly, they're regarded as mature enough to represent an operational capability. The Combat Training Centers aren't used for research and development.
At Interpol's conference in Singapore on July 3rd, British authorities shared lessons learned from the drone activity that shut down Gatwick Airport earlier this year. The drones, operated by environmental activists, amounted to a very small swarm, a nuisance. The hobbyist drones weren't armed, and the threat they posed was simply one of collision with civil aircraft. Unfortunately the counter-drone systems in place proved incapable of handling more than one drone at a time.
North Korea resumes missile tests.
On July 25th North Korea tested two short-range ballistic missiles. Pyongyang said the tests, witnessed by DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, were intended as a warning to South Korean "warmongers." Seoul was specifically counseled to stop importing weapons and conducting joint exercises with the United States.
Satellite system availability.
Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system sustained a general outage for about four days beginning on July 11th. Coverage had been largely restored by July 18th. The consequences of the outage were not severe, but this was only because the digital systems that depend up precise timing and geolocation had GPS available as a fallback. The outage appears to have been the result of ground station malfunctions, not an attack. The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency said, “The technical incident originated by an equipment malfunction in the Galileo ground infrastructure, affecting the calculation of time and orbit predictions, and which are used to compute the navigation message. The malfunction affected different elements on the ground facilities.”
Electronic attack, however, has interfered with GPS in other incidents. Airline pilots flying to and from Tel Aviv report loss of GPS signal. That loss does seem traceable to electronic warfare, but in this case it appears to be collateral damage from Russian jammers operating in Syria.