The House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces recently released their H.R. 2670 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024 markup.

The markup included various Counter-UAS (C-UAS) or Counter-Drone topics of interest to the subcommittee, including air and missile defense; counter-unmanned aircraft system transition and fielding; passive radar for air defense and counter-unmanned aircraft systems; and air-based air defense.

In order to inform Congress of the evolution of various defense-related topics, including C-UAS matters, the subcommittee is seeking reports, briefings, and/or assessments due from December 2023 to March 2024.

Air and missile defense

Critical to the Army’s vision for future warfare is the ability to protect its combat formations from modern and advanced air- and missile-delivered fires, including drones. Events in the current conflict in Ukraine underscore the need for such capabilities. Providing these capabilities could be challenging as the Army has not focused on the need for air and missile defense in its recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the emerging tactics of near-peer competitors, however, it is vital that the Army secure these capabilities or risk failing in any future conflict.

Therefore, the committee directs the Comptroller General of the United States to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than March 1, 2024, on the Department of the Army’s air and missile defense program.

At a minimum, the report should address the following elements:
(1) systems or technologies the Army seeks in the near, mid, and long term to improve air and missile defense;
(2) analyses the Army has performed to determine these needs, to include an assessment of the joint force;
(3) to what extent the Army has applied leading practices for acquisitions in air and missile defense programs;
(4) to what extent lessons learned from the Ukrainian conflict have been incorporated into the air and missile defense portfolio; and
(5) how the Army has positioned itself with research and development resources, in terms of both funding and personnel, to develop these technologies

Operational assessment of installation defense using directed energy capabilities against unmanned aircraft systems and unmanned aircraft system swarms

Reported unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) incidents have increased from 63 in 2020 to 115 in 2022. Rogue and malicious drones have interfered with sporting events, caused airport shutdowns, violated border laws, delivered illegal contraband into prisons, and damaged critical infrastructure. The committee believes high-power microwave systems must continue to advance the effectiveness of waveforms against new UAS software and hardware to counter the escalating UAS and UAS swarm threat effectively.

Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than March 1, 2024, on the operational assessment of its installation defense capabilities to defeat UAS threats and recommendations for required changes or modifications to equipment, procedures, regulations, or existing laws to operationally employ directed energy.

The assessment should include the following information:
(1) operation of high-energy lasers, high-power microwaves, and other emerging directed energy technologies;
(2) ability to defeat UAS threats at operationally relevant distances;
(3) ability to integrate with other counter-UAS systems and existing security infrastructure;
(4) ability to rapidly transport and set up;
(5) ability to regulate defeat distances;
(6) ability to safely operate on U.S. installations, to include effects on the spectrum and airspace inside and outside of established defeat distances and human beings and vehicles inside and outside of established defeat distances;
(7) ease of training and operation;
(8) maintainability and sustainability;
(9) cost-effectiveness; and
(10) scalability.

Counter-unmanned aircraft system transition and fielding

The committee supports the rapid transition of leading counter-UAS (cUAS) capabilities from U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to conventional units across the joint force. The committee notes that the Secretary of Defense designated the Secretary of the Army, through the Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO), as the executive agent responsible for testing and evaluating c-UAS capabilities for use across the joint force. The committee understands that since its inception, the JCO has carried out several demonstrations in realistic operational environments and has recommended systems and capabilities to serve as providers of c-UAS capabilities for the military services.

The committee is concerned that the military services, in particular the Army, have neither transitioned proven systems, specifically systems currently operating in combat environments with USSOCOM or systems that have been recommended by the JCO, to production at scale, nor acquired them for wider deployment across the joint force. The committee commends efforts by USSOCOM to work with the military services, including the Army, to identify fielding opportunities for fully tested and combat-evaluated capabilities, but the committee believes that the JCO can and should drive broader progress toward these objectives.

Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of the Army to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services not later than December 1, 2023, on the following:
(1) the Army’s plan to ensure that JCO-approved c-UAS capabilities are adopted and acquired by the Army and joint forces and integrated with current systems to close critical capability gaps, enhance and adapt technology, and reduce cost;
(2) identification of gaps, if any, in existing authorities that would prevent the Army from carrying out the transition and acquisitions described above;
(3) opportunities for greater integration of JCO equities into the planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process and the Future Years Defense Program, consistent with JCO strategy and DoD Directive 3800.01E;
(4) recommendations that would speed the transition and acquisition of approved c-UAS capabilities to the joint force. Such recommendations should address whether modifications to the JCO’s mandate and authorities are advisable, or whether an alternative structure (other than the JCO) would be better suited to facilitate the transition and fielding of validated technologies.

Passive radar for air defense and counter-unmanned aircraft systems

The committee believes that the Department of Defense must adopt passive radar technology to complement active radar systems and modernize its enemy surveillance capability. Such a passive capability would allow for lower maintenance costs and the undetected tracking of enemy movements without signaling the location of friendly forces.

Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of the Army to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services not later than February 1, 2024, on passive radar capabilities relating to air defense and counter-unmanned aircraft systems. Specifically, the briefing should include the following:
(1) a review and articulation of existing passive radar solutions available today and an assessment of each identified solution’s technology readiness level;
(2) an assessment of passive radar technology and its viability for operational use, to include teaming with active systems, as well as the cost effectiveness of using it as a standalone capability; and
(3) any current or planned research, development, test, and evaluation initiatives to further develop passive radar capabilities.

Air-based air defense

The Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment (ACE) strategy is a major step
forward that will ensure the Air Force is at the ready to deter and stop threats. The committee notes that this plan is a major innovation. However, with the proliferation of threats and the Air Force’s plan to deploy in remote locations independent from other major service elements, the committee is concerned these critical assets will lack sufficient air defense. The committee appreciates that ACE places expanded pressures on the Army’s air defense capabilities.

Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of the Air Force to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than February 1, 2024, on the Secretary’s plan to provide expeditionary, mobile air defense to remote and forward-deployed air fields, including estimated costs and schedule to procure such air defense systems. To the extent the Air Force is concerned about lacking authorities to develop or procure air defense systems, the report should provide a summary of authorities that may need updated or changed.

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