This is how militaries can defend against drones

Sumit Dutta
Posted: 08/14/2017

With consumer drones a growing threat to military assets, there is now a strong investment case for countermeasures

The Pentagon issued a classified policy to US forces in July declaring that military bases now have full legal rights to shoot down private or commercial drones deemed to be a threat. Local communities have since been notified that any unmanned aircraft system (UAS) trespassing in military airspace could be seized or destroyed. 

As news of the rule came to light, the UK’s Royal Navy policies became subject to scrutiny when an amateur photographer managed to land his drone on the brand new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier while docked at Invergordon in Scotland. With no attempts made to stop the curious UAS from infiltrating the 70,000-ton warship, the security gap seems self-evident.

Source: Black Isle Images

SEE ALSO: A timeline of the rising small UAS threat 

As Defence IQ has previously reported, consumer drones have now been employed on multiple occasions by ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq. Video footage has even emerged of the aircraft being retrofitted with grenades to destroy armoured vehicles from above or to provide makeshift, mobile booby-traps. 

Even unarmed, the surveillance capabilities of most commercial drones present a significant threat in their own right, offering the chance for an adversary to use footage to coordinate a future attack. This is becoming all the more possible because the technology is experiencing rapid miniaturisation

Settling on a single countermeasure is risky, particularly when many of the options have specific drawbacks depending on the environment in which they are used. It is therefore likely that many armed forces will be exploring layered defence shields, accounting for potential failure along the ‘soft kill’ to ‘hard kill’ chain. 

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Organised with the official support of the Department for Security and Economy, Government of Geneva, the conference will identify the essential improvements to capability and regulation. It will also be the first event to include a live demonstration of counter drone technologies, hosted on a Swiss Army training range.

Militaries must also consider issues of scale and modularity, as well as the ability to integrate these solutions alongside more conventional weapons suites. Each of these factors will have a considerable effect on both cost and operational relevance.

Fortunately, there is a raft of possible counter-UAS approaches already on the commercial shelf...

Blunt force

Perhaps the most obvious and most low-tech solution on the UAS mitigation market is to knock the drone out of the air with another object. Effectively, this is the equivalent of conventional anti-air and missile defence, but on a smaller and slower-moving scale. 

One of the leading options in this category is the SkyWall100 system from OpenWorks Engineering. The device is a man-portable compressed air launcher that fires a 22-pound net to physically capture the drone before dropping it back to the earth by parachute. Although short in range, the benefit of this approach is that seizing the drone intact could allow for forensic analysis of the aircraft’s data, potentially offering vital intelligence.

Source: OpenWorks Engineering. Gif: Defence IQ

US-based Advanced Ballistic Concepts have taken a similar approach using 12 gauge and 40mm shells that deploy nets. Other US companies are simply selling standard 12 gauge shells as an ultra-basic short-range solution.

Signal hijacking 

Military facilities and assets are not always isolated. There is often a risk that scrambling or destroying a drone can risk harming people on the ground, particularly if those drones have been rigged with explosives or other hazardous material. 

Department 13’s MESMER – which competed in last year’s MITRE Counter-UAS challenge – actively hacks the connection between the pilot and the drone by manipulating the radio communication protocol. The operator can then force the drone to land or return home. 

The UAV D04JA UAV Jammer from Chinese company Hikvision can also disable and take over remote control signals, including GPS and GLONASS positioning. It has been tested for use in sports stadiums and other urban areas where the danger to civilians is high, making it a popular consideration for civil authorities and private security firms.

Source: Hikrobotics. Gif: Defence IQ

Directional RF interference

Higher-grade, large-scale options are now being marketed for the rigours of military use in the form of multi-tiered, radar-based systems. These solutions are vital when there is a need for long-rage engagement and when GPS-spoofing alone is not enough.

Operating a high gain quad-band antenna system, the British-made Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) combines electronic-scanning radar target detection, electro-optical (EO) tracking and directional RF inhibition capability. The system can not only detect a drone five miles (8 km) away, but will track it, classify it and disrupt its flight.

Source: Blighter. Gif: Defence IQ

Directed energy 

For what could be the fastest and most decisive capability on the list, lasers are becoming a feasible option. However, directed energy weapons are still experimental from an operational standpoint and drawbacks include an inability to limit the distance of a shot and the general safety risks to operators. 

Col. (R) John Haithcock, director of the US Army’s Fires Battle Lab, told Defence IQ that within the next five years, 30 - 50 kw lasers will likely be employed on vehicles to “defend against the full suite of air threats”. Meanwhile, the US Navy's USS Ponce is already at sea boasting the Laser Weapon System ('LaWS') to target a range of possible threats from small boats to UAS. 

As one of the leaders in this field, Rheinmetall has for several years been developing laser-based products for countering air threats, including commercial drones and military-grade UAVs.

Source: Rheinmetall. Gif: Defence IQ

Boeing has also unveiled its Compact Laser Weapons System designed for easy transport. 

Other types of directed energy are being explored, such as sonic waves. A team of Chinese researchers demonstrated a system at this year’s Black Hat security conference that uses audible sound and ultrasound emitters to disrupt the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) chips – including accelerometers and gyroscopes – that commercial drones use to orient themselves. This proved effective on a range of electronic devices, not just UAS.

Other drones 

Using UAS technology to counter UAS technology seems a natural step – and indeed several organisations have taken this approach.

While some of these solutions employ electronic countermeasures, French company Malou Tech has developed the Drone Interceptor MP200, employing the much simpler concept of hanging a net off a drone before flying directly into the target’s path. While it may look cheap, demonstration footage shows that it can have the desired effect.

Source: Malou Tech. Gif: Defence IQ

Involved in this market? Defence IQ's Countering Drones LIVEdemo forum will gather military and security leaders inin Geneva, Switzerland, on the 19-20 September. Register to attend or to demonstrate your solution.

Sumit Dutta
Posted: 08/14/2017