The first commercially available drones launched in 2010, and authorities were quick to react. Identifying the risk UAVs posed to civil and military aviation, they established restriction zones around airfields; the first of several measures designed specifically to target the threat of unpiloted aircrafts.
Despite these restrictions, security breaches happen. And neutralising them remains one of the biggest challenges in aviation—especially in military contexts.
Fighter jets are expensive. The average F-35A costs over $80 million. They also require a tremendous amount of talent and experience to operate, and pilots perform regular drills to hone their skills. The problem is, many of these training exercises are conducted at low altitudes, where collisions between UAVs and piloted aircraft are most likely to occur.
Even the slightest collision can mean an expensive repair job and unplanned periods of operational downtime. In some cases, it could even prove fatal. Fortunately, recent advances in drone radars and countermeasure technology have opened the door to new, more effective strategies for dealing with the drone threat.
Upgrade Your Radar Capabilities
In the early days, the only drone radars were standard systems that had been adapted to monitor UAVs. They worked after a fashion, but because they were originally built to identify larger hazards, such as commercial air liners, they struggled to distinguish between birds, drones, and other small objects.
The emergence of purpose-built drone radar has overcome many of these issues. The best systems can operate in any conditions, providing 24/7, 360° coverage. They identify and track the flight paths of multiple drones simultaneously, making them ideal for monitoring drone “swarms”. Some systems can even classify individual models and record the pilot’s digital fingerprint, providing valuable evidence to prosecute.
This provides a range of tangible benefits for control teams: two of the most obvious are increased coverage and faster response times.
1. Increased Operational Range
Drone radars can track the flight path of drones over a wider range – up to 3km, depending on the system. This gives you far greater operational range than you’d have with a system based on human observation and traditional radar, increasing coverage and visibility.
2. Enhanced Situational Awareness, Faster Response Times
One of the key aspects of modern drone radar is its ability to distribute automatic, real-time alerts to control teams whenever an unauthorised UAV enters a restricted zone. The most advanced systems even allow you to assign “safe zones”, so you can filter out activity from your own UAVs and prevent false alarms.
This improves situational awareness for control teams—a vital prerequisite for developing an effective strategy to address security threats posed by drones. And, because it doesn’t require human input, it drastically increases response times while reducing operator workload.
Deploy the Right Countermeasures
Perhaps more than anything else, drone radar forms an effective early warning system for military bases. This gives ground teams more time to respond and deploy the right countermeasures to deal with drone security threats, before they bring operations to a halt.
There are many countermeasures on the market, each of which can quickly neutralise errant UAVs. The right solution depends upon the level of protection you require and your budget. But, whatever you choose, it’s likely to deal with the threat in one of three ways:
- Taking control of the drone
- Neutralising the drone
- Destroying the drone
Some countermeasures are more forceful than others. Here’s a brief overview of the most effective, split into two categories: controlled and direct.
If you’d rather bring offending drones to a (relatively) gentle stop or redirect them away from your airspace, Radio Frequency Jammers or GPS Spoofers are your best bet.
Radio Frequency Jammers interrupt the radio signals sent between the drone and its remote, forcing it to make a controlled landing or return to its home location. Bear in mind that this can cause some UAVs to crash-land or fly off in a random direction—which may create additional problems.
GPS Spoofers work on a similar principle. They send a replacement signal to the drone, dynamically altering its GPS coordinates and allowing you to direct the unit to the nearest safe zone.
Alternatively, you can neutralise the threat directly.
Nets—fired from a specialised ground-based cannon or deployed mid-air by one of your own drones—are a simple but effective solution. They prevent the rotor blades from spinning, quickly bringing the target to the ground. This is good for forensic purposes, since it allows you to physically capture the drone. But it can create debris.
More high-tech solutions include High Power Microwave (HPM) devices and High-energy Lasers.
HPMs generate an electromagnetic pulse that interferes with the radio link connecting the UAV to its controller. This either disrupts or destroys the on-board circuitry, rendering it inoperable. The major drawback with this technology is that it can inadvertently damage nearby electronic equipment.
Laser-based countermeasures are still largely experimental. They aim a focused, high-energy beam of light at the target drone, destroying the physical structure and electronics in one fell swoop. Because of the experimental nature of the technology, it’s expensive and can result in collateral damage.
Striking the Perfect Balance
Finding the right balance of technologies is key to creating an effective anti-drone strategy.
A high-tech and purpose-built drone radar, for the most part in military aviation, is only half the solution. But the opposite is also true. Expensive countermeasures will never be optimal without the ability to detect, classify, and track approaching drones.
This is why the ability to work alongside other technology should be a key capability of any system you choose. Before settling on any specifics, it's important to do your research. Ultimately, you want something that meets your specific requirements while also integrating seamlessly with your existing systems.