Drone-killing costs must come down, says Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer

Drone-killing costs must come down, says Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer

The price tag for weapons and munitions used to destroy drones must come down, as the costs are “getting too expensive” and uncrewed systems are expected to saturate battlefields, according to the Pentagon’s acquisition boss.

U.S. troops have for years batted down attack and reconnaissance drones, often by using pricey ordnance. Ongoing intercepts of drones launched by the Yemen-based Houthi militant group in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are reliant on multimillion-dollar missiles, among other arms.

Bill LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said April 24 during a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington that “cost curve matters” in counter-drone operations.

The goal is to get the cost down to approximately tens of thousands of dollars per round, he added, noting a price exceeding $100,000 a shot is “getting too expensive.”

The comments come as overhead defenses receive overhauls and industry jostles for contracts. Militaries the world over are increasingly developing and deploying uncrewed systems with the goal of spying, supplying and attacking forces from farther away; their popularity can be seen in Eastern Europe as well as the Greater Middle East.

LaPlante said there exists equipment in the ideal cost window but did not name makers nor models.

Defense companies have built and pitched everything from powerful lasers and microwaves to drones that ram their targets midair. The U.S. Army in February bought 600 Coyote interceptors from RTX, formerly Raytheon Technologies, in a deal worth $75 million. Coyote devices are used in mobile and stationary setups in what’s known as the Low, slow, small, unmanned aircraft Integrated Defeat System, or LIDS.

“We have a spreadsheet of all the counter-[unmanned aerial system technologies] that are out there, including prototypes that the labs are doing. Everybody’s doing them,” LaPlante said at the conference. “I’m really excited about some possibilities of even some counter-UAS capabilities per round that could be $10,000.”

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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