‘Drone’ is the common term given to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). These devices have become increasingly popular in recent years and Amazon has even started using them for delivering small packages. They are also commonly used to film beautiful aerial vistas for home videos and travelogues. However, they pose a threat to commercial pilots and even more disturbing, the military.
Modern militaries have a new enemy in the form of drones. These low-flying targets are smaller, cheaper and slower than most air-borne objects which makes them more of a threat if they were to be fitted with explosives.
Call for New Technology
DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), the future-projects arm of the Pentagon has predicted that the coming years will see plenty of small drones being used increasingly as weapons. To protect against these drones, DARPA has requested the identification of “novel, flexible, mobile layered defence systems and component technologies that could be leveraged to improve force protection against a variety of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS).”
The United States Navy has built a fleet of trucks, which work with a special weapons program that will help them shoot down any dangerous drones when they enter an area of combat. This Ground-Based Air Defence or GBAD weapons program helps the Marine Corps, who do a lot of fighting on land. Although systems such as GBAD are expensive to build, they are a lot cheaper than most anti-air weapons.
Anti-Drone Devices around the World
Outside the United States, anti-drone devices have already been developed. Because small drones are too small to waste a missile on destroying, Germany has come up with a laser cannon that is part of a large system of weapons and sensors that have been built to tackle incoming hostile objects including planes, helicopters and of course, drones. This laser, built by Rheinmetall, was on display at the Eurosatory 2016 Land and Airland Defence and Security Tradeshow.
Israeli defence manufacturer Rafael has also developed an anti-drone system called Iron Beam, set to be a part of the country’s defense artillery in the future. Iron beam also has a variant that is designed to bring down rockets, while the other version attacks drones. The system uses radar to track the target drone after which is switching to a thermal camera. Because this is a laser weapon, it can shoot continuously, until it has electrical power, which makes it perfect for defending against attacks from smaller threats such as drones. When used to destroy multiple drones, the expensive system is a lot cheaper than the drones that it destroys.
Lasers Are Popular for Anti-Drone Devices
A laser, when used to bring down a drone must burn a hole through the drone. Burning a hole in a drone will make it crash because it will either disable the computer that controls the drone or the hole in the drone’s wing will cause it to crash.
Although lasers are a popular choice for military manufacturers, they require a lot of power and the laser beam must stay focused on the drone for a long enough time to burn a hole in it. This means that a laser must also come equipped with software that helps it target the drone. The laser will be no larger than the size of a pin header connector. Despite the complicated and expensive sounding requirements of an anti-drone laser, it is in fact very cost effective when you see the bigger picture and how many drones a laser can bring down.
Jam the Device
Another way to bring down a hostile drone is to override its controls using a tool like the DroneGun which has been developed by a company called DroneShield. Despite looking like a gun, it is in fact a jammer which, when aimed at the device, cuts off all signals to the drone, effectively causing it to crash down to the ground.
The DroneGun can attack drones from more than a mile away and can even jam the drone’s GPS. This gun can stop drones that may be carrying weapons. It has, however, not yet been approved by the FCC in the United States. The DroneGun works by disabling drone signals, including GPS from as far as 1.2 miles away. Unlike laser beams, this anti-drone device doesn’t destroy the drone and only forces the drone to land or go back to where it came from. This means that not only can this device helps disable the drone, but it can also help locate the pilot of the drone.
Although in theory, this device sounds like a great addition to anti-drone weaponry, it is currently illegal in the United States, and unless you work for the United States government, you can’t legally operate it. It has the potential to help protect soldiers against drones in the battlefield and can also help bring down drones at airports and can help in other situations where it’s not easy to get close to the drone.
Another similar device was built by the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and uses antennas similar to those made at cable manufacturer Scondar, Wi-Fi radio and a Raspberry Pi computer to communicate with the drone and make it power off, sending it pummelling to the ground. This device was built by Captain Brent Chapman and cost very little in manufacturing parts, some of which can be bought from an electronics distributor or a female header manufacturer.
There are many ways to stop a drone in its tracks, and apart from using missiles or bullets, a net can also be used to catch the drone. A British company has created an anti-drone weapon that shoots nets at the drones. The system comes with three net-carrying projectiles: a net, a net with a parachute and a net with electronic counters to jam the captured drone’s signals. The projectiles can hit a drone up to 330 feet away and it comes with tracking software to ensure that you’ve captured the drone. Called SkyWall, the launcher is currently being marketed to the police and for government use.
There is an increase in the number of anti-drone devices being seen around the world, whether being developed by private companies or by government agencies. Drones are no longer seen as harmless and fun flying devices used to film aerial shots for personal use, but as dangerous anti-military devices which pose a very real threat. The next few years will show whether governments around the world approve the use of these anti-drone devices not only by the military, but civilians as well.