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Details of a previously unknown drone project unveiled in a Pentagon document suggest that US Special Forces are acquiring small drones equipped with electronic jammers. The document hints that the drones may already be in use.

Project Hornet is “an advanced, hand-launched unmanned aerial system (UAS) that can be used by forward-deployed personnel to interdict and disrupt adversary electronic capabilities in contested environments,” according to a Pentagon R&D budget estimate. 

US Special Operations Command operates hundreds of small tactical drones, from palm-sized helicopters to quadcopters to large fixed-wing drones, and uses them extensively for intelligence gathering. They are also major users of the portable, tube-launched SwitchBlade strike drone. Adding jamming into the mix is a logical extension of their capabilities, according to forbes.com. 

As the document states, “the UAS platform provides Special Operations Forces (SOF), along with Service and Interagency partners, with a versatile, adaptive capability that can be applied to a diverse range of adversary electronic threats.”

While the most obvious use is communications jamming, it is clear that Project Hornet can do more. Blocking the signals for cell phones, walkie-talkies or other radio devices is tactically useful, yet small drones could also jam or spoof GPS. A jammer the same size and power as a smartphone can put every GPS within line of sight out of action. On the ground, this only means short distances, but an airborne jammer could disrupt GPS reception across an entire city.

Special Forces may also be interested in using drone-borne jammers to put enemy radar out of action. A small drone released by commandos can get extremely close to a radar, and a one-watt jammer nearby can do more than tens of kilowatts from a manned electronic aircraft at a safe distance.

There do not appear to be any other references to this project, and the document notes that: “Further details of this project are classified.”

Jammers are often put forward as the solution to the problem of proliferating small drones on the battlefield. However, an increasing number of such drones are now able to operate autonomously without a link to a human operator, even in the consumer sector. Jamming will not stop them. However, jammers used by drones may present a whole new challenge for communications, navigation and sensor systems. 

Project Hornet may be the first of an extensive range of devices to confuse and confound forces on the ground.