Recently, the U.S.-based aerospace and defense company Raytheon has started the production of a series of satellites that aim to give soldiers on the ground a reliable and effective eye in the sky. Called “Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements” or SeeMe, this DARPA-backed program consists of a number of disposable miniature satellites that will allow foot soldiers to access live satellite imagery from the palm of their hand.
Currently, the average soldier on the ground relies primarily on military intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or satellites. Although effective, both forms of reconnaissance cannot constantly provide real-time information to troops on the front line. UAVs can only stay airborne for limited amounts of time and current satellites do not possess the capability for live images.
With SeeMe, soldiers will be able to view live satellite images from a handheld device such as a smartphone or tablet (1). The capability for any soldier to have access to this level of military intelligence is unparalleled on the battlefield today. If effective, SeeMe will give its users a decisive advantage in any combat situation—from a small skirmish to a large-scale battle.
Another enticing aspect of SeeMe is its low cost and disposability. Previous satellites require massive rockets to be launched into space and can cost upwards of $1 billion. SeeMe weighs roughly 50 pounds and possess an expected price tag of less than $500,000. In addition, SeeMe satellites are only supposed to last anywhere from 60 to 90 days in orbit, falling towards the ground and burning up in the atmosphere afterwards (2).
The potential behind this program is precisely why DARPA has supported it. Later this year, SeeMe is planned to be sent into low orbit via the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (3). Once safely launched, the satellites will be tested by American foot soldiers over the course of a few months. If all goes well, plans exist for over two dozen more satellites to be launched into orbit over the coming years.
If successful, SeeMe will likely be the first in a long line of disposable satellites, whose industry is supposed to grow to over $7 billion over the next several years (4).
(1) Wicnner, David. "Raytheon Developing Tiny Satellites to Help Troops on the Ground." Korea Stripes. N.p., 17 Oct. 2016. Web. 4 Nov. 2016.
(3) "Raytheon." Tiny Satellite Work Ramps Up. N.p., 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Image: © Mikephotos | Dreamstime.com - SpaceX rocket launch and landing
Over the past ten years, no term has become more synonymous with guerrilla and asymmetric warfare than the IED. An IED, or improvised explosive device, is defined as any bomb that is deployed in a manner deemed unconventional by modern military standards. Generally, IEDs are munitions, such as unused artillery rounds, that have been repurposed into a fully functioning bomb. These bombs are commonly placed alongside roads, in buildings, or even inside cars, and can be remotely detonated by a single individual. It is this ease of use and low cost that has caused the IED to become a favorite amongst insurgent groups throughout the Middle East.
According to data from the Pentagon, since 2003, nearly two-thirds of all U.S. Military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were due to IEDs (1). As a result of these staggering losses, the United States Military has been forced to spend millions of dollars on equipment to counter these weapons. A few examples include IED-resistant trucks, specialized IED removal vehicles, and designated bomb disposal units. However, as the countermeasures to IEDs have evolved, so have the IEDs themselves.
Recently, fighters from the Islamic State (ISIL) have begun using drones as vessels for IEDs. The handful of reports that exist describe commercially bought fixed-wing and quad-rotor drones carrying small amounts of explosives deep into friendly territory (2). So far, the casualties from these “red drones” have been minimal, however their potential is quite frightening. Drones themselves are inherently difficult to detect because of their size and maneuverability. This means that a small drone fitted with explosives could, hypothetically, fly undetected nearly anywhere and inflict untold amounts of damage.
Needless to say, this issue has caught the attention of the United States Military. Recently, a budget document sent to Congress requested approval for a shift of $2.5 billion in defense funds to accommodate current needs (3). These needs include the development of countermeasures for what the Pentagon calls “small and tactical unmanned aerial systems”.
Some ideas include the use of laser weapon systems in order to take down enemy drones. Lasers such as the one aboard the USS Ponce have already proven themselves more than capable of the task (4). However, although certainly effective, lasers are currently too expensive to deploy in large enough numbers across the battlefield. Another solution comes in the form of the “DroneDefender”, a handheld directed-energy drone countermeasure (5). The DroneDefender works by interfering with a drone’s remote control and/or GPS, rendering the drone uncontrollable. This solution is especially enticing for the military due to its low cost and ease of use.
Over the coming years, as IED-armed drones become more common, the use of these countermeasures will become more apparent. One thing is for sure, in a cat-and-mouse game that is the War on Terror, both sides will continue to evolve.
(1) Zoroya, Gregg. "How the IED Changed the U.S. Military." USA Today. Gannett, 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
(2) "Islamic State Fighters Using Drones with IEDs and Spy Cameras, Says Pentagon." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 7 July 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
(4) Schehl, Matthew L. "U.S. Troops Face New Threat as ISIS Deploys Flying IEDs." Marine Corps Times. N.p., 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
(5) Epstein, Zach. "New Rifle Shoots Drones out of the Sky without Firing a Single Bullet." BGR. N.p., 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
Image: © Sadık Güleç | Dreamstime.com - Iraqi Soldiers