Air Force

Air Force Works to Track ISIS Drones to the Source

ORLANDO, Florida -- The U.S. Air Force and Joint Coalition aren't waiting for deadly drones used by the Islamic State to pop into the airspace and menace troops.

Airmen are actively on the hunt for them, said Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

"Purchasing a system that just defends a space … is more of an industrial age solution, and we need to go to the information age solution," he told reporters during a media roundtable Thursday here at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium.

Silveria said forces in Syria and Iraq have seen drones "from quadcopters with little cameras up to [drones] with a wingspan of five, 10 feet."

It's "obvious" the ISIS drones are being used for "strike, [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], command and control, propaganda," he said. "As airmen … we're going to take these on the same way we take on any system."

Silveria said that means going after the leadership, logistics, finance and storage to "find how ISIS is training the pilots, where they're storing the aircraft -- not just wait until the thing shows up and then shoot it down."

Recently, the Air Force highlighted a story about how a U.S. airman at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, spotted a piece of intel that led to warplanes bombing 11 sites in the Middle East where American military officials witnessed Islamic State militants manufacturing deadly drones.

"This is not a magic weapon that we can just watch and it's killing everyone," Silveria said of ISIS drones. "We have capability against it; we are having success against it, so we're gonna translate that back into the requirements process so that they can look at what they need. And the success we're having … is trying to look at all the elements" in intelligence gathering.

While the U.S. has deployed new technology to disable ISIS drones, including the DroneDefender, an assault rifle-style product that features a directed energy frequency jammer, Iraqi Security Forces have yet to get their hands on the weaponry.

The Air Force recently awarded a contract to an Israeli company for $15.6 million for "counter-UAS" measures, DefenseOne reported. But the service has not detailed what the contract -- awarded to ELTA North America Inc., a subsidiary of Israeli Aerospace Industries -- stipulates, nor how it could defeat ISIS drones.

Silveria said he has no doubts Iraqi Security Forces will take Mosul, "but there's still work to be done."

As allied forces take out or send ISIS forces into retreat, Silveria said the work will be to "find them and work with the Iraqi Security Forces in the same way."

"When we're off supporting a three-to-five division movement on a major city, when we're out of that, then we'll be in a find and locate intelligence fight," he said.

The general said the planning phase for how best to "recharacterize" the fight is ongoing.

The fight against ISIS and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan could get harder as the weather improves this spring. Silveria said fighters, airlift and ISR platforms are stationed "specifically in Afghanistan" to cover missions there.

For example, a group of air refueling tankers was recently stationed in Afghanistan for a few weeks specifically so fighters could refuel within the country and to avoid moving aircraft in bad weather, Silveria said.

"Once the weather started to get better in the Gulf region, when springtime arrived and we were out of the fog season -- we're still providing the same level of tanker support [now], just not in Afghanistan."

The tankers left the country this week, he said, adding that the Air Force has seen "highly kinetic weeks" in Afghanistan.

So far in 2017, there have been 18 strike sorties in which one weapon was released, according to the latest January AFCENT statistics. On those missions, 57 bombs were dropped; in 2016, more than double were released.

"The amount of strikes have started to increase of late," Silveria said, "but I think historically that is traditional for the springtime. And if the [region] needs more strike capacity, we send in more."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.