I was heavily involved in UAV development in the mid-1990s, as the Intelligence Collection Manager of the 18th Airborne Corps at Ft. Bragg, NC. During that time period, I became a part of the requirements process for the UAVs which are now in common use, such as the Predator, Global Hawk, and the Hunter. Since I was in charge of coordinating the intelligence assets for multiple divisions, I was most interested in their development as intelligence collection platforms.
Since my involvement with these relatively monstrously large UAVs, there is now a tendency to develop smaller platforms, the size of a fly – and possibly smaller. This enables tiny UAVs to infiltrate enclosed areas and collect intelligence otherwise only accessible to humans and cyber. Swarming, or using large numbers or UAVs together, is a being developed as a technique to maximize coverage, share collected and locational data between platforms, and as a means to avoid obstacles.
As I was reviewing a document today, I realized how much the US has moved away from the use of deception. Fake tanks, reflectors, emitters, pinwheels, fake unit movements, chaff, flares, all have been used at some point to fool radars, incoming air defenses, and the humans reading the collected data and information. We even had entire units devoted to fooling the enemy.
I began thinking how UAVs could be an integral part of military deception in the future. The development objective on some models would shift from stealth to deception.
We can replicate entire unit movements using UAVs using reflectors, emitters, and signal generators. We can easily generate a false signature which looks exactly like a unit attempting a penetration deep into enemy territory. A deep strike could easily be simulated, a fake Special Forces unit, entire armored, airborne, or conventional units could be fabricated, and not just electronically, and the enemy can be fooled. In our effort to overmatch and overwhelm an enemy, this could easily be yet another means of driving enemy intelligence crazy and fool enemy commanders.
There is a precedent already published in open source, Cooperative deception jamming against radar network using a team of UAVs, Deception of radar systems using cooperatively controlled unmanned air vehicles in electronic warfare. We developed deception algorithms for Multiple radar phantom tracks from cooperating vehicles using range-delay deception in 2004, already.
The concept of Tactical Air Launched Decoys is an old tactic. The US used them in the 1980s in the Beka Valley in Lebanon, and their use has been predicted as an invasion technique by China against Taiwan, How We Lost the High-Tech War of 2020: A Warning from the Future.
China is already considering or may already have ‘deception UAVs‘ (in English, no less).
Why is this not an integral part of our warfighting policy and doctrine? We were considering its use in 2007 for electronic warfare, Cooperative Electronic Attack Using Unmanned Air Vehicles. Why not for conventional deception?
The Global Hawk has it’s own deception devices “[t]o enhance Global Hawk survivability, it is equipped with the AN/ALR-89(V) Threat Warning Receiver (TWR), a Threat Deception System (TDS) including onboard jammers, appliques, and expendable decoys, and the ALE-50 Towed Decoy System.”
Deception techniques are not restricted to the Air domain, however. They may also be used on land, sea, and space. The concept has even been considered for cyber defense: Deception for Cyber Defense Research.
The Russians have long briefed their interest in remotely or autonomously guided anti-armor capabilities, imagine if they expended their anti-armor supplies on decoys? Riverine, littoral, and aerial/waterborne UAVs have been developed by US researchers, imagine large numbers of remotely or autonomously piloted vehicles coming to a battlefield near you? Someone in Russia developed this futuristic video, Future Unmanned Russian Solar Powered Tank Which Is Invisible To Drones, a completely remote destruction force.
Tomorrow’s battlefield will be awash in information. Russian deception, or Maskirovka (Маскировка), is practiced by the Russian military routinely. We in the West do not use it, do not practice using it, we do not defend against it, nor do we practice defending against it. Imagine if the West had the tactical and operational advantage if hostilities should ever break out and we deployed overwhelming deceptive techniques in every domain, across domains, and in multi-domains. This may create an insurmountable strategic advantage before hostilities even begin.