Camarillo: Drones Are Transforming the Battlefield

Camarillo: Drones Are Transforming the Battlefield

A soldier trains on a counter-drone weapon.
Photo by: U.S. Army

The prevalence of unmanned aerial systems presents a ubiquitous threat that is fundamentally transforming the battlefield, Undersecretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said.

“What we’re seeing, and not just in Ukraine, but really around the world, is that the availability and the impact of small, unmanned aerial systems and the threats that they present on the battlefield is here to stay,” Camarillo said May 17 during a discussion on drone warfare hosted by the Center for a New American Security.

“We see that the threat is complex, it’s ubiquitous and is really transforming what the battle space looks like,” Camarillo said. He pointed out that the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities brought about by the unmanned systems “prevents any forces from being largely concealed or massed together.”

“It’s changing the way that, at least in Ukraine, both sides are fighting, and we anticipate it will change the character of how warfare is conducted in the future,” he said.

Soldiers will have to operate, move and maneuver within an environment where everything they do can be seen. This means they will have to be vigilant about the reach of their electromagnetic signatures, the size of their command posts and how they communicate. Camarillo said the days of “large antenna farms” that were so easily discoverable over two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan won’t be feasible in future conflict.

“We can safely assume. looking ahead to the future, that really low cost, mass, attritable sources of [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] are going to be available in any battle space,” Camarillo said.

With the pace of change rapidly accelerating, counter-unmanned aerial systems have been “a major focus area for the Army,” Camarillo said.

Between fiscal years 2017 and 2024, he said, the Army invested about $1.8 billion on a “range of different approaches” to countering the threat. These include kinetic solutions, investment in the maturation of directed energy solutions and upgrades to the components of counter-UAS defeat systems.

“Because the threat is so current and real and currently affecting or presenting threats to forces even today, we have had to accelerate and put a lot of emphasis on what’s available now,” Camarillo said.