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Drone Swarms as You Know Them Are Just an Illusion—for Now

Liam CobbPhoto by: Liam Cobb Look at all the pretty drones. Hovering above sports stadiums from Houston to Pyeongchang, many hundreds of them have lately sparkled in artful murmuration. On a recentTime magazine cover, 958 drones pixelated the sky. The world record, 1,374 LED-bedazzled microbots, was set by Chinese company EHang UAV in May. So-called drone swarms—the phrase people have taken up with gusto—are having their biggest, buzziest year ever. It’s an evocative word,swarms, and innocuous enough when applied to one ofIntel’s drone light shows. But it’s tinged with alarm—if drones can dance at twilight, they can also attack. Sure enough, a gang outside Denver sent a small fleet to harass FBI agents on a raid earlier this year. In Syria, rebels reportedly sicced a squadron of quadrotors on a Russian base. To the media, both events were swarms. Take comfort, then, in this buzzkill: “The swarm is really an illusion,” says Mac Schwager, an assistant professor at Stanford who studies mul…

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Here’s how the Army is trying to catch up to Russia and China on missiles, artillery

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The Army is playing catch up at all levels of fires with China and Russia. The service's secretary and top general update the Senate on how. (BAE Systems)

While senior officials admit that the Army is currently outgunned and outranged in its artillery and missiles programs, the service’s secretary and top general told Congress that fixing that problem at every level is their top priority.

“Both China and Russia have passed us up in terms of range and rapid fire,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma during the Army posture hearing Thursday.

So, what’s being done about it?

Army researchers expect to deliver cannons and missiles that can shoot farther, more accurately and with more lethality, beginning with extended-range projectiles, next year.
By: Todd South

At the top of the list of six major areas of focus for the Army is long-range precision fires, said Army Secretary Mark Esper.

During his recent tours of the combatant commands, Esper told the Senate that each of those commanders “conveyed the importance” of long-range precision fires to their respective missions.

He and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley laid out the levels of programs that are getting attention:

At the tactical level is the Paladin Integration Management program.

On the operational level is the Extended Range Cannon Artillery program.

At the strategic level are hypersonic projectiles.

The Army is playing catch up at all levels of fires with China and Russia. The service's secretary and top general update the Senate on how. (Sgt. Aaron Ellerman/Army)

For the PIM program, as of December, more than three dozen sets of M109A7 Self-Propelled 155mm Howitzers and M992A3 ammunition carrier vehicles had been delivered with 60 more a year for the next three years scheduled, according to Military Times’ sister publication Defense News.

The PIM takes the Howitzer gun, adds an on-board power system, digital displays and lets the Army use the same undercarriage as the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

The cannon program seeks to double the range of the modified howitzer. At the annual Association of the U.S. Army symposium last year Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins commanding general of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command said that the extended range projectiles will be demonstrated this year.

The program includes developing long-range weapons that can operate with or without GPS. Demonstrations on those systems are expected by fiscal year 2021, Michael Richman, an RDECOM researcher said at the same event.

The program is also working on improvising the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System used by both the Army and Marine Corps. Demonstrations are expected in fiscal year 2023.

Hypersonic projectiles, or missiles flying at five times the speed of sound to avoid missile and air defenses, recently grabbed headlines when Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the Kinzhal hypersonic cruise missile that he claimed could travel at 10 times the speed of sound.

Esper noted that hypersonics development will benefit the Army but much of the work will be done jointly, relying on other services.

The X-51A Waverider has successfully shown hypersonic flight is possible. But Russia may have passed the U.S. in this crucial technology. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

The hub for that research is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

DARPA Director Steven Walker told Defense News in March that the systems are just around the corner.

“We’re going to start flying these systems in 2019, you’ll see lots of flight tests, and we’re excited that these will be systems that will be very capable that we can use from standoff” range, Walker said. “These are not going to be just flying propulsion concepts through the air.”

Funding for hypersonics has gotten congressional attention as well. They put aside $85.5 million for the programs in fiscal year 2017, which jumped to $256.7 million in the most recent budget request, according to Defense News.

Esper also noted that on the missiles front, the mobile Short-Range Air Defense, or SHORAD, system will be ready to deploy within two years. The Army has already decided on a chassis and certain effectors but they’re pushing developers to build in extra capacity for lasers.