The US Navy needs more counter-drone tech to stop a growing Middle East threat

  • The US Navy needs new weapons strategies to defeat drones in the Middle East.

  • Naval expert Bryan Clark suggests using jammers, as well as lasers and microwave weapons.

  • Missiles are useful but not a sustainable option because they are expensive.

US Navy warships are extending their stay in the Middle East to face off adversaries supplied by Iran. The confrontation shows they're going to need more sustainable weapons to stave off enemy drones, says naval analyst Bryan Clark.

"We've been having to use surface-to-air missiles to shoot down some of these drones, which the cost exchange is not very attractive from the U.S. perspective," Clark, a Hudson Institute senior fellow and retired US Navy officer, explained to Federal News Network's Eric White. "When you look at what the Ukrainians are doing to defeat Russian drones, it's mostly jamming."

The latest variant of the SM-2 missile a destroyer has used to down drones launched by Iran costs $2.1 million.

Clark suggested that in addition to Ukraine's strategy of jamming the guidance systems and control links of Russian drones, the US Navy should also try developing technology like lasers and microwave weapons to blast the drones.

Clark noted that the Navy already has access to models of lasers with less than 100 kilowatts, they just have to use them. "I think that's where the debate in the Navy has been, is do we wait for a bigger laser that's able to take down a cruise missile, or do we field smaller lasers today that can take out a drone?"

Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland fires a high-energy laser weapon at a training target.
Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland fires a high-energy laser weapon at a training target.Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert/US Marine Corps

Using a million-dollar missile to defeat a thousand-dollar drone may sound good in the moment, but to Clark, it just isn't a viable long-term strategy.

"I think what the operations in the Middle East are going to highlight is the fact that we should get those lasers out there more quickly to deal with the drone threat and save us the need to use expensive surface-to-air missiles to shoot them down," Clark concluded.

The US Navy's missiles have been useful, but there have still been some close calls. On Jan. 30, a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis got so close to a US Navy destroyer that it was forced to use its close-in weapon system, its last line of defense.

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