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interview by Curtis Hand, images from UVision

With much mainstream media coverage about global use of weaponised drones  and various types of rockets launched, MSD thought it best to reach out to one of the leaders in aerial weapons – specifically, loitering munitions – for some clarification.

After speaking with Mr Dagan Lev Ari (left) – one of the directors at UVision, we are able to provide some clear insights that address aerial weapons effectiveness, safeguards, force multiplication, efficiencies, and more through this technology profile.

MSD: How do loitering munitions and weaponised drones differ?

Dagan Lev Ari (DLA): Loitering munitions are a new type of weapon that combines the benefits of a missile and a weaponised drone, while excluding the limitations of either platform on their own. Usually when a force is on the ground or at sea, usually they do not have a weaponised drone at their disposal and need to call in an airstrike of some sort.  And even when a force is pinned down on a beachhead or facing a superior force and needs supporting air fires, they might not be a priority and the asset is realised only after it is available – by then it could be too late.

This is a disadvantage of weaponised drones is that they require a lot of, money, support and training, which takes months and not every defence force has such resources at their disposal.  The disadvantage of a guided missile is knowing where the target is first.  What if it is concealed?  And if you can see the target, then it can see you.

What if you fire the guided missile and the scenario changes? If it is a wrong target, the target shifts position or civilians enter the area, then you cannot stop it.  But Loitering munitions allow you to find the target like a drone, but without the deciding or command echelons and complications.  A soldier or marine simply opens, launches and controls the loitering munitions during every stage of a mission – even disengage the loitering munition and recall it.

Loitering munitions provide a new range of operational capabilities that were not available before with added advantage of having the fire power of a guided missile exactly when and where it is needed.

MSD: When are loitering munitions a preferred warfare platform?

DLA: A soldier might need to request a weaponised drone strike from higher echelons, which they might not be able to reach.  Loitering munitions allow them to use and control the required drone strike themselves.

At the operational level, when frontline forces cannot or do not want to be dependent on any other echelon or forces, giving these frontline forces (marines, MOUT, boats, ships) the independence to locate, make decisions and attack a target.  Such air strikes were only previously achievable with a lot of coordination, debating and pre-planning with other forces – and a higher echelon to approve the target striking.

MSD: What are the advantages for using loitering munitions used in a maritime environment?

DLA: If considering Anti-USV, counter-piracy, counter-insurgency, hard-kill, counter-submarine, and other uses, then this relates to another aspect of the modern battlefield.

Targets on the water are not that clearly defined – a fast moving boat could be anyone.  Do you shoot or not? If you shoot, sometimes the firepower is too much.  Within the modern nautical battle-space, targets require investigation before firing.  This is why or how loitering munitions provide a fail-safe advantage: you launch it, fly it overhead, investigate and interrogate the situation using cameras and sensors on it and then decide to attack or abort, calling it back for refurbishment.

But once it is launched, forces are able to loiter for one or two hours and find a legitimate target if the first is a “no go”; so, the financial as well as tactical aspects for using loitering munitions are justified. Governments look at what they need and buy – so the ability to recall and refurbish a loitering is attractive to forces that are budget sensitive.A loitering munitions attack can be calculated and precise – hard kill, soft kill, cause limited damage, not kill everyone, or even just incapacitate the opposing force.  UVision has the ability to decide how it detonates, which is a problem for the modern battlefield and can impact a mission’s outcome(s).

MSD: How are loitering munitions “force multipliers” in marine expeditionary, SOF or MOUT operations?

DLA: Simple, loitering munitions:  allow for enhanced force protection; increase ISR; improve a level of readily available firepower; be capable of asset control transfer as an asset from one controller to another; and, remain independent.

The modern battlefield has a lot of spoofing, interfering and jamming. UVision loitering munitions have jamming counter-measures to make then more resilient and operational in some parts of the spectrum even when there is some jamming underway.

MSD: What is the main misunderstanding people have about loitering munitions?

DLA: One thing is that military forces think in “boxes”.  They take what they know and learnt and try to see the world through this paradigm or in that way.  This is how they have trouble thinking outside these compartments: if it is a UAV and the Air Force must buy it and control it.  If it is a GBAD missile, then ground forces must buy it – and use it to replace something else. Because militaries think inside these confines, they cannot rise above them to see the larger warfare scenario and understand loitering munitions as “something else” other than what they are used to dealing with – loitering munitions are inter-service.

If something is new – like loitering munitions, then it is difficult to operate. But it is not required to be complicated…We put much R&D into UVision loitering munitions to make them simple to operate.Why? Because it was developed for use by a deployed soldier, not a pilot…And being new doesn’t mean that it is expensive. Loitering munitions are much more affordable and cost effective than existing systems to which loitering munitions are an alternative.

MSD: How does the training time and regimen differ between loitering munitions and weaponised UAVs?

DLA: First, UAVs need a lot of infrastructure and training (months) to train and operate.  Loiter munitions can take two weeks or less because of its simplicity.  Second, we have a portable simulator, packed in a relatively small box, which requires a table and two chairs.

More affordable, portable and flexible training than a UAV and allows soldiers to train anywhere – even when in deployment.  In training, it is possible and reasonable to expect being able to simulate any situation and include how controllers use loitering munitions in each scenario.  The ability to use a simulator to address unique SOF requirements is important because one can train the way they engage with loitering munitions in the battle-space.

MSD: What’s in the pipeline for UVision?

DLA: Adding additional capabilities to the existing family of loitering munitions in operation.  UVision is developing and enhancing its technology all the time – with better ways and capabilities to the current product portfolio. This includes new prototypes and designs to expand the product portfolio.  We are working hard to bring these products and others yet unseen into the portfolio.

We are also widening the number of different platforms from which loitering munitions can be launched.  For example, launching from unmanned platforms and even armoured personnel carriers, adapting how UVision’s loitering munitions are deployed to support forces in almost any scenario while launching from these platforms.

UVision is looking into new markets (now that it successfully penetrated the US* and home market) and expecting these customers’ partners to procure UVision loitering munitions based on the positive uptake or adoption already evident.

So, if the USMC is using UVision loitering munitions, then perhaps other NATO partners will buy it – following suit with the USMC programme to increase NATO interoperability and force protection and multiplication.

While, until now, the only customers for loitering munitions are highly advanced military forces willing to consider this literally “out of the box solution, other forces are waiting to see how “the big players” are doing.  Loitering munitions can provide poorer countries with a new level of air support and defence capabilities for comparatively little investment.

*Disclaimer: US military does not promote or endorse UVision.