Almost one year into Air Force Central Command’s push to field unmanned technologies, the unit says it’s already using some of its new drones in Middle East operations, and is funneling these ideas all the way back to the Pentagon.
The Air Force’s Task Force 99 “nests very well” within the Pentagon’s new Replicator drone program, AFCENT commander Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich said Wednesday. Launched in August by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, Replicator aims to build cheap drones in the “multiple thousands” within the next two years.
At a Defense Writers Group conference, Grynkewich said that the Mideast task force hopes Replicator can help some of their concepts get off the ground.
With only about 15 people, the unit “doesn’t have the ability right now to scale, to operate thousands of these capabilities. I think what Replicator will do is help us make that shift,” he said.
The unit has almost 100 unmanned systems “either on order or on hand” across 13 types that can travel anywhere from 10 miles to 900 miles and conduct intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance or attack missions. Grynkewich highlighted the group’s new Kestrel, a 3D-printed drone.
“We can make this thing for about $2,500,” he said. “It can go roughly 100 kilometers, so not a huge range, but something that can be relevant on the battlefield.”
Five nations are working with U.S. forces on Task Force 99, and there are “several others that I think will come on board in the next several months,” the general said.
Grynkewich said the unit’s main objectives include increasing air domain awareness, conducting ISR missions, and “imposing dilemmas on the adversary,” which could include one-way kinetic attacks or spectrum warfare.
The General stressed that this group was not just an innovation hub, but a real-world force which is using drones for missions.
“We have used these drones for surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance. I won’t get into the when and where due to the classification issues, but I will say that we have used them for ISR and they’ve proven capable,” he said.
Grynkewich said some of these drones have already proved more useful than the Air Force’s MQ-9 drone, which has great “capability” but is limited. Using smaller drones with high-resolution cameras that fly lower than the MQ-9 has allowed AFCENT to gather data on potential threats, he said.
“This is one of the use cases that we have been working on and that we will be presenting to DepSecDef. Hicks again for this Replicator,” said he.
Grynkewich is also working closely with Army Central Command on counter-drone systems, noting an app called Carpe Dronvm, “seize the drone,” which the services have been developing with MITRE to find and track drones.
“Someone who’s wandering around who had this app on their phone could take a picture of the drone and then an alert would go up to people in the area that the drone was there. AI can identify the drone. They can build track files if enough people take pictures of it,” Grynkewich said.
The Army has incorporated Carpe Dronvm in the Red Sands Integrated Experimentation Center which it runs with Saudi Arabia for testing out new technology.
The article Air Force Mideast drone tests may feed the Replicator effort first appeared on DefenseOne .