Air Defense: US Marine Corps Drone Defenses


June 21, 2024: The Marines have decided to use the newly developed vehicle-based Madis (Marine Air Defense Integrated Future Weapons System) AUD (Anti UAV Defense) systems. Madis is transported in two Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JTL) vehicles, which replaced the smaller Hummer. Between them the two vehicles carry sensors, including radar and fire control equipment to detect targets. Weapons consist of two 30mm autocannon, with coaxial (adjacent and aimed at the same target) M240C 7.62mm machine-guns. The vehicles are also configured to use Stinger air defense missiles as well. These weapons are part of a RWS (Remote Weapons Station) and are operated by marines inside the enclosed vehicle. Madis is an upgraded version of the older L-Madis that was developed for ship defense and used successfully in 2019 when it shot down an Iranian UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), otherwise known as a drone. The marines expect to start receiving Madis, as well as an updated L-Madis in 2025. Ultimately the marines expect to receive 21 L-Madis and 190 Madis systems.

The marines are not the only American military personnel seeking more AUD systems. U.S. forces in the Middle East have requested more AUD systems to protect U.S. personnel from the growing UAV threat. UAVs are cheap, plentiful and can be armed or equipped with more capable video cameras, sensors, and communications capabilities. These accessories are relatively cheap and available from commercial outlets. The cheap and available angle has not only led to a lot more UAVs being used in wartime, with Ukraine being the combat situation where this is demonstrated in what is known as near-peer combat where two adversaries with roughly equal weapons and equipment fight each other. There has not been such a war since World War II. While many aspects of the two forces are similar to the World War II experience, there is a lot of new technology. Some of this new tech is cheap, widely used by both sides and continually evolves for as long as the fighting lasts. When peace returns, evolution will slow down and often stop. The reason for this is cost.

Right now, the fighting in Ukraine has led to a growing number of new AUD systems and one of these is the U.S. Navy system called EAGLS (Electronic Advanced Ground Launcher System) for ships. EAGLS can also be used by ground forces and that is the case for the EAGLS systems sent to protect American forces stationed in the Middle east. Currently, each EAGLS system costs about five million dollars.

EAGLS provides similar functions as the earlier Vampire AUD System that has already been sent to Ukraine and performed admirably. Like Vampire, EAGLS uses APKWS II, or Advanced Precision Killer Weapon System II 70mm laser guided rockets. APKWS 70mm laser-guided rockets weigh only 15 kg and have a range of about five thousand meters when fired from the ground. EAGLS can detect and fire APKWS laser guided rockets at air and even ground targets. Any UAV, cruise missile or helicopter within range is vulnerable.

EAGLS is a self-contained system with three components. There is a CROWS II (Commonly Remotely Operated Weapon Station II) equipped with a four-round 70mm rocket launcher loaded with laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System II (APKWS II) rockets, a sensor turret with electro-optical and infrared cameras, and a small radar array. The system is designed to be used from an immobile pallet on the ground or mounted in the back of a Humvee configured as a pickup truck. Any other similar truck will do and the Ukrainians undertake such improvisations quickly. EAGLS uses a DRS RPS-40 radar which can detect targets ten kilometers away and track them until they come within the five kilometer range of the APKWS rockets. To deal with that EAGLS also has an optical sight that enables the system operator to fire at targets within visual range. With a heat sensing (infrared) option EAGLS can detect and fire on targets at night.

It is possible for enemy forces to detect the radar signals emitted by the EAGLS radar and fire a guided missile at a stationary EAGLS system. That’s why EAGLS is usually mounted in the back of a truck or Humvee. A new version of the APKWS II is being developed with a range of 12 kilometers. This is a major improvement over the current five kilometers.

The U.S. Navy is equipping some of its destroyers with EAGLS to increase anti-aircraft capabilities while also providing a land attack option as well.

APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System) is a 15 kg 70mm rocket, with a laser seeker, a six pound warhead and a range of about six kilometers. Laser designators on a helicopter, or with troops on the ground, are pointed at the target, and the laser seeker in the front of the APKWS homes on the reflected laser light.

APKWS was developed from the 2.75 inch (70mm) rockets used during World War II as an air-to-air weapon for use against heavy bomber formations. The Germans had developed a similar, and very successful weapon, the R4M, but before long it was noted that neither the Japanese nor the Germans had any heavy bombers, so the U.S. 70mm rocket was switched to air-to-ground use. Actually, the 70mm rocket was retained for air-to-air use into the 1950s, but it was never successful in that role. The 70mm rocket became very popular in the 1960s, when it was discovered that the weapon worked very well against ground targets when launched from multiple 7 or 19 tube launchers mounted on helicopters. The 107-140 centimeter long rockets could be fired singly or in salvoes and gave helicopter pilots some airborne artillery for supporting troops on the ground. There are many variations in terms of warheads and rocket motors. Some versions can go over 10 kilometers.

The United States has also sent six hundred Coyote UAV interceptors to protect American troops in the Middle East. Coyote is launched from an aircraft and weighs 5.9 kg and is a 60 centimeter long UAV with a wingspan of 247 centimeters. Coyote is launched from a pneumatic tube and the wings extend and the Coyote is directed to search for or attack a target by its remote operator who can be over 100 kilometers away. Coyotes can remain airborne for two hours while seeking a target. Cruising speed is 102 kilometers an hour, with a top speed of 130 kilometers. In 2022 the reusable Block 3 Coyote was introduced. Each one carries devices that enable it to destroy up to ten UAVs before landing to be rearmed and have its battery recharged or replaced with an already charged battery.




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