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The US armed forces keep looking for new technologies to counter small drones, as they have become a threat from both law enforcement and military aspects. Over this backdrop, the US Air Force security forces, as well as other military personnel and law enforcement agencies, may soon be getting a new tool to cope with small drones – shotgun shells with a net. The Pentagon has been looking into the development in order to manage the growing threat.
On Jan. 31, 2017, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) announced plans to buy and evaluate 600 12 gauge SkyNet Mi-5 shells from AMTEC Less Lethal Systems (ALS). If the Air Force was happy with the tests’ results, the service would have the option of buying another 6,400 units.
The Pentagon’s Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell (JRAC) put the urgent request together in response to the potential danger the certain small flying machines posed “vital national security assets,” a phrase that commonly refers to nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.
The Skynet Net Gun system has been demonstrated at several locations in varying conditions during testing as part of the 2016 Air Force Research Laboratory Commander’s Challenge. According to thedrive.com, Air Force officials and private contractors demonstrated various prototype and production systems during this event.
In comparison to other anti-drone weapons, the SkyNet Mi-5 is relatively simple. Each shell contains five metal segments, each connected by a high-strength cord to a central point. “The five tethered segments separate with centrifugal force and create a five-foot wide ‘capture net’ to effectively trap the drone’s propellers causing it to fail,” ALS says on its website.
The Pentagon only wants the weapons to be able to handle remote-controlled aircraft in what it describes as Categories 1 and 2. The first group covers unmanned airplanes weighing less than 20 pounds and able to fly no more than 1,200 feet high. The second level includes drones between 20 and 55 pounds with the ability to reach altitudes of up to 3,500 feet. Drones in both categories generally wouldn’t be able to fly faster than 300 miles per hour.
In addition to SkyNet, there has been steady work across the Pentagon on the subject, ranging from hand-held and vehicle-mounted jammers to fast-firing chain guns to lasers.
Quadcopters and other tiny pilotless aircraft pose real dangers to both first responders and military personnel at home and abroad right now. In June 2016, firefighting helicopters battling a wild blaze in California had to briefly halt operations after a private drone entered the airspace. Four months earlier, U.S. Navy security personnel had spotted a small drone over the Kitsap-Bangor base, which is home to a number of nuclear-armed Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.
More recently, Islamic State modified commercial unmanned systems so they could drop small bombs on government troops and civilians in Iraq and Syria. In January 2017, the terrorists released a video of them using the improvised arrangement to attack an Iraqi M1 Abrams tank. Potentially even more worrisome, the brutal group has used the drones to spy on their opponents, help artillery units adjust their fire and even film slick propaganda videos of suicide attacks.
In July 2016, the U.S. Army included an entire section on the threat and how to respond to it on the battlefield in a new training manual called Techniques for Combined Arms for Air Defense. Category 1 and 2 drones were among “the greatest challenges for Army forces,” the handbook explained.
If they prove successful, the net-filled shells will likely only be one component of a suite of future weapons for the rapidly expanding mission of counter-small unmanned aerial systems (C-UAS). Since 2016, multiple pictures have appeared on social media of American troops actually fielding rifle-like jamming sets in Iraq and Syria. For a wider layer and more automative form of defense, the Air Force itself has reportedly bought limited numbers of an Israeli “Drone Guard” system and Liteye’s Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS). On a higher-end of the spectrum, directed energy weapons and other counter-rocket, artillery and missile (C-RAM) like systems theoretically could make up the upper layer of area drone defense, but the Pentagon still has not fielded such a capability in a substantial and focused manner.