Swarm-capable loitering munitions are the latest in advanced drone technologies rapidly reshaping the modern battlefield.
The role of unmanned systems on the battlefield has been steadily increasing over the past two decades, ushering in what has been referred to as a ‘Precision Revolution’ by many notable warfare analysts. Key to this development has been these systems’ ability to minimise the exposure of friendly forces, provide persistency in surveillance and support capabilities, and their effectiveness in helping to offer greater real-time intelligence – be it from a matter of metres to thousands of kilometres in distance.
As these systems have gone through technological change, the ability to deploy them has also moulded to user requirements and capabilities. Previous ideas on the role of unmanned systems working in the long-range and long-endurance spheres have shifted, as the need to gather a cost effective, high-fidelity, actionable threat picture has increased. As the costs of unmanned systems have also dropped dramatically, the ability to create more disposable assets has become easier.
As a result, platforms have now shifted to shorter endurance to allow sensor saturation, as the need for improvements in threat perceptions have grown. Similarly, the mimicking of some of nature’s key defensive and offensive capabilities – swarming – now means that military operators can gain a critical advantage over their adversaries.
In the air domain, air dropped swarms have shown that decision-makers can saturate an area with sensors to provide a rapid, data-rich picture of activity within an area that would be the equivalent of putting multiple people on the ground. Improving the sensor processing of these swarms, as well as pairing them with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, can allow for greater flexibility and agility in the swarm, thereby reducing the burden on a human end-user and enhancing responsiveness to dynamically changing situations.
As the number of unmanned sensor systems increases, the successful deployment of AI technology also helps to improve target classification, determine intentions, and shape broader strategic approaches. The future of onboard and off-board computer processing, combined with boosted communication capabilities across spectrums including 5G, will lead to faster response times and improved co-ordination of swarms in defensive and offensive operations.
In an offensive capability, the role of a swarm can be to ensure that a target is successfully attacked, and defensive capabilities are overwhelmed. As warhead capabilities are improved and the costs lowered, creating drone swarms also means more complex target sets – such as multi-building facilities or moving formations of vehicles. If a target’s defensive systems include mobile or portable systems, then a swarm can work to adapt to changes in real-time.
As battlefield sensor operations have also improved, the ability to utilise slower moving assets such as heavy mortars and artillery has decreased, even self-propelled systems. The time constraints between firing and detection has meant that even with advanced command-and-control technology enabling rapid mobility operations, seconds can count, but can be significantly undermined by the ubiquity of sensor systems.
Loitering munition technologies allow for a significant reduction in the kill chain, as the time between detection and target prosecution can be greatly reduced. Further, with an endurance period that can measure into the hours, such systems can be used to dynamically support operations as needed, and also provide a flexible response if the threat picture changes.
As onboard sensors and communication technologies continue to improve, they can serve as a significant force multiplier for strategic and tactical operations. The potential for loitering munitions to operate in a swarm means that high-value targets, or key targets of opportunity, have a higher chance of being successfully engaged than with a single missile strike from a traditional armed UAV.
The recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has highlighted how multiple UAVs working together can create high-fidelity sensor operations, confirm what other intelligence sources reveal, and allow for swift, responsive action. Arming low-cost platforms with small but effective sub-munitions meant that armed unmanned UAVs with longer endurance times could stay aloft for longer periods and provide greater utility to commanders on the ground through surveillance and strike operations. The role of smaller munitions in conjunction with this strike capability meant that precision strikes could be conducted, however undertaken while minimising risk of collateral damage to either civilian populations, or friendly forces if they were in close contact.
In a RUSI report entitled, “The Democratisation Of Precision Strike In The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict”, its authors, Dr Jack Watling and Dr Sidharth Kaushal, remarked that “…a country such as Azerbaijan was able to effect precision strikes at operational depth – once thought to be the sole preserve of great powers – by using a range of relatively cheap tools to substitute for its lack of a robust air force is strategically noteworthy.”
During the campaign, the use of drones on the battlefield in smaller swarms enabled redundancy if a platform was lost due to technical fault or enemy action. Similarly, if an intelligence or strike surge capacity was required by ground commanders, the deployment of assets enabled rapid enrichment of the intelligence picture through increased sensor presence.
Further, Jack Detsch of Foreign Policy Magazine cited Col. Scott Shaw, the outgoing head of the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, who stated that “What’s clear in that [Nagorno-Karabakh] conflict is that a less funded nation can do combined arms warfare. You don’t have to be the United States or Russia,” Shaw continued. “The price point to entry into combined arms warfare is lower than initially thought. You don’t need something like the United States Air Force, a superbly trained, spectacular capability, in order to conduct potentially a local air-to-ground or air-to-air activity.”
Loitering munitions and strike capable UAVs are on the increase globally where manufacturers of such systems can be found in the USA, Israel, Turkey, China and Russia. At the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) of 2021 held in Abu Dhabi, Paramount Advanced Technologies announced the launch of its own long-range, precision strike and cost-effective swarming UAV system, the N-Raven.
Paramount Advanced Technologies, a subsidiary of global aerospace and technology company, Paramount Group, developed the N-Raven as a robust yet cost-effective reconnaissance, search and precision strike unmanned aerial vehicle system, leveraging the company’s proven experience gained from its long legacy in the development of UAV systems.
The N-Raven family has been specifically designed for technology transfer and portable manufacture from within partner countries, offering both versatility yet mission-specific accuracy and at the same time, affordability.
Paramount Group has a long history of producing its latest technologies in customer countries through industrial partnerships that create local defense industrial capabilities, local jobs and skills transfer.
With interoperability a true tenet of modern-day innovation in aerospace and technology, the N-Raven efficiently utilizes readily transferable commercial components which dramatically reduces costs in aerial reconnaissance or engagement. Customer countries from across the globe have accordingly unlocked the opportunity to deploy these next-generation loitering munitions technologies to great effect – bolstering air defenses exponentially with operational depth and pinpoint accuracy, without having to resort to the acquisition of expensive systems often associated with a traditional air force.
Indeed, the N-Raven addresses a myriad of mission requirements, including ‘future warfighter engagements’ where intelligent swarming technologies combined with multiple munitions loitering and attack operations have, as was the case in Nagorno-Karabakh, proven to ensure mission survivability.
With a modular system allowing for flexible mission planning, operational units can launch the versatile N-Raven UAV from multiple land-based, naval, and airborne platforms. Formation level commanders can further benefit from the advantage of the N-Raven’s precision strike capabilities against high-value targets, both static and moving, located deep within enemy territory.
The 41 kg N-Raven operates with a covert, low signature in contested environments offering a cruise speed of approximately 180 km/hr and a loitering endurance time of approximately four hours. N-Raven swarm loitering munitions provide a wide variety of sensors, each capable of carrying a 10 – 15 kg payload up to a range of 250 km.
The N-Raven system provides detection, identification, location, and reportage (DILR) against various targets, critical to the successful execution of modern fire missions, with swarm capabilities offering support for Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). The N-Raven can saturate even the most austere of environments with Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR), Semi-Active Laser sensor-driven target identification and tracking technologies to provide a rapid, data-rich picture of activity. This reduces threats to personnel safety while enhancing human end-user responsiveness in radically changing engagement scenarios.
Speaking at the launch during IDEX 2021, Lee Connelly, CEO of Paramount Advanced Technologies (PAT), stated, “Based on our decades long airborne and autonomous systems design and production history, Paramount has today expanded its offering into the field of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) swarm technologies, the next step in robotic warfare.
“At Paramount Advanced Technologies, we believe that innovative design should also lead to affordable design. The N Raven family is a case in point. We are very proud that we can offer a precision strike swarming drone system at arguably the best levels of affordability on the market.
“Through focused and highly customised design strategies, governments can avoid the problem of procuring imported systems that were never designed to be suited exactly for local conditions and requirements. New production methodologies and modern materials make it possible to integrate and construct sophisticated defence systems from commercial off-the-shelf components, thus reducing costly technical risk”.
In response to the increasing demand from governments for the development and strengthening of local defense industrial capabilities, Paramount has pioneered a portable production model that has been implemented by several countries around the world. This model has resulted in the manufacture of Paramount’s land and aerospace technologies in countries across the Middle East and Asia, as but examples.
“We continue to research, design and innovate new technologies that remove military personnel from the front lines, minimise the exposure of friendly forces, while at the same time provide cutting edge surveillance and aerial engagement support, helping armed forces around the world garner greater intelligence and ultimately, mission success,” Connelly concluded.
The N-Raven family of loitering munitions is the next step in the ongoing Precision Revolution, one which will not only save lives and minimize collateral damage but ultimately marks an industry sea change in the democratization of tactically advanced and layered aerial engagement.
Paramount Advanced Technologies believes that its N-Raven family is able to deliver precision strike at unmatched levels of cost effectiveness for its partners across the world. They are also ready to manufacture it in the end-user’s country.
*Colonel Wes Martin retired from active duty in 2010. During his rise from private to colonel he accumulated over ten years of command time, including two battalions, one group, and one base.