Increasing proliferation of UAV systems across the world need to be assessed in terms of their potential threat to future NATO operations, and the alliance should start work on counter-systems and procedures, according to a newly released draft “Flight plan for UAS in NATO” prepared by the alliance’s Joint Air Power Competence Centre.
The draft flight plan warns that NATO’s existing coalition air operations centres (CAOCS) “do not have the ability to detect most intruder unmanned air systems [UAS]. Due to the small size and low altitude of flight of many UAS, they are not identified by ground control systems as intruder aircraft.”
Released on 18 October at the JAPCC’s annual air power conference in Kleve, Germany, the draft says that “the mission of sorting out friend and foe tactical UAS is being left to the [operational] land component commander to deal with. At this level there is no concept of operations on how to find and then identify tactical UAS.”
NATO needs to determine whether counter-UAV operations are part of the alliance’s air policing mission, and whether existing doctrine is sufficiently effective to deal with the challenge, the draft says. It proposes having the NATO air defence committee review the issue by the end of 2007, with follow-on work by the NATO air standards board. Complete arrangements for the mission should be in place by 2010, it says.
Questioned about the challenge during the Kleve conference, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe and JAPPC director US Air Force Gen William Hobbins said that the immediate focus of counter-UAV capabilities remains the intelligence community.
He said that the existing NATO air defence ground environment is highly capable, but better understanding is needed of the attributes of specific threat systems, as well as opportunity systems based on the conversion of remote-control model aeroplanes. That later threat was one assessed as being a credible risk during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and the 2006 Football World Cup in Germany, he said.
Hobbins also told the conference there may be potential for the use of evolving military cyberspace capabilities as a means to counter UAVs by targeting their command and control architectures.