JR Ng – The use of unmanned aerial systems to disrupt or attack military and civilian personal and locations is now and established threat to be countered.
In December 2018, multiple sightings of at least one unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) were reported near the only runway of Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom. More than 1,000 flights were cancelled or diverted during prolonged airport shutdowns between 19 and 21 December, affecting around 140,000 passengers during the busy festive season. The emergency prompted the government to deploy Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel, equipped with Rafael Drone Dome communications-jamming technology acquired for the British Army earlier in the year, to provide counter-UAV coverage at Gatwick.
UAVs are becoming widely available commercially. Current UAV market offerings, particularly ready-to-fly multirotor ‘drones’ equipped with digital cameras for commercial, industrial, and recreational aerial imaging have proliferated in recent years as prices became progressively affordable. Indeed, many people can easily purchase a wide range of small but high-performance hobby UAVs from manufacturers such as DJI, Parrot, and Yuneec.
Although the use of such UAVs has been largely benign, the asymmetric and tactical advantages such cheap and easy-to-operate aerial platforms – especially those that can be modified to carry improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or other small weapons such as grenades – has not been lost on non-state actors, terrorists and less well-resourced military forces, and as such the potential threat that these pose against both military and civilian targets is increasing.
One of the major tactical developments during the war against the Daesh in Syria and Iraq has been the exploitation of hobbyist and even homemade remote-controlled aircraft that have been weaponised. For instance, Daesh released a video in January 2017 that demonstrated its use of the Skywalker X7/X8 flying-wing UAV to carry out attacks against security forces. Videos of weaponised commercial UAVs performing low-level aerial bombardment on main battle tanks and other armoured vehicles, often with horrific consequences to exposed crew members, have also been widely circulated.
Evolving C-UAV approaches
Although this emerging threat can be countered to a certain extent by existing kinetic means such as gun or missile-equipped remote weapon stations (RWS), counter-rocket and mortar (C-RAM) systems, and even surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, these measures are generally aimed at defending fixed and high-value positions and can be prohibitively expensive to deploy. The use of conventional munitions is also tightly regulated in urban environments, where the risk of collateral damage is high.
This phenomenon has spurred the development of non-kinetic or non-lethal means to address these low-end threats with the appropriate low-risk response: a trend that can clearly be seen by the increasing prevalence of such systems being developed or offered on the market in recent years.
These include man-portable directional jamming systems that disrupt radio frequency (RF) and/or satellite navigation signals that govern the operation of such UAVs, causing them to land, hover in place, or trigger their automatic ‘return home’ function. Portable jammers are now being offered in rifle-like form factors where the user visually acquires the intruding UAV, and then aims and activates the RF emitter at it just as if they were shooting at a target.
Another solution that is increasingly becoming more widespread is deploying standalone systems that combine electro-optical and infrared (EO and IR) surveillance, high-frequency radar, as well as disruptors to detect, locate, and engage incoming threats in a single package. This approach is less portable but can offer a wider area of coverage than man-portable systems which do not possess automated detection and target location ability, although some companies have integrated such systems in civilian or tactical vehicles for a mobile area defence capability.
Australia: DroneGun and DroneCannon
Sydney-based UAV detection and disruption technology firm DroneShield has secured what is believed to be the largest known deal of its kind in the nascent man-portable C-UAV market to date, comprising the sale of 70 DroneGun Tactical systems worth $3.2 million to an undisclosed defence ministry in the Middle East. US government regulators approved the sale in September 2018, paving the way for production and deliveries to commence.
“This regulatory approval represents an important step in DroneShield’s history with a green light to deliver on our first multi-million-dollar order,” Oleg Vornik, CEO of DroneShield, said in a statement. “With the company’s near-term pipeline containing multiple multi-million-dollar potential orders, this clearance gives us and our customers the confidence that we will be able to deliver our industry-leading products to a wide range of qualified end-users.”
The DroneGun Tactical is a rifle-like portable RF jammer that is designed to defeat a wide range of commercial UAV models. Unlike many comparable products being offered by other developers that require a backpack-mounted power supply, the fully self-contained unit weighs 6.3kg and is powered by a rechargeable and hot-swappable lithium-ion battery that supports over 30 minutes of continuous operation.
According to DroneShield, the DroneGun Tactical has an effective range of one kilometre in a wide range of environmental conditions and does not require special training to operate. The system is designed to inhibit video transmission from the targeted UAV to its operator, while forcing it to land safely or return to its point of origin. This approach aims to minimise the possibility of a crash and inadvertent detonation of explosive payloads, with the intruding UAV kept intact to assist with forensic investigation.
The company announced its latest DroneCannon Remote Weapon (RW) jamming module in October 2018. Designed specifically to add a complementary UAV soft-kill capability to conventionally armed RWS, the system is housed in a lightweight and shock-mitigating chassis with a total weight of 10kg. It has an effective distance of up to 500m, and is claimed to be capable of defeating UAV swarms by forcing individual units into their respective fail-safe modes where they will either hover or slowly descend. This approach enables the operator to use the RWS’ kinetic weapon or other troop and vehicle-mounted weapons to destroy or physically disable intruding UAVs with greater ease.
China: Laser C-UAV systems
Although there is a diverse selection of soft-kill C-UAV systems being offered by private Chinese firms, it is worth noting that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) is actively pursuing energy weapon technology to defeat hostile UAVs. In November 2017, the ministry announced that it had successfully demonstrated a prototype laser C-UAV system in Beijing.
The prototype Short Range Air Defence System comprises two vehicles carrying ISO-standard containers, with one configured with a roof-mounted radar, an electronic jamming system, and a small EO sensor turret, while the other is equipped with a roof-mounted laser effector and rangefinder.
Images released by the MND depicted a locally made DJI Phantom 2 mini-UAV carrying a thin metal plate, which was illuminated by a laser beam that subsequently melted a hole through it. A Syma X8C mini-UAV was also pictured with burn damage in the same announcement, presumably caused by the same laser.
“The defence system, a representative high-tech accomplishment of China’s military-civilian integration, can effectively prevent and control such problems as illegal flights of unregistered UAVs,” the MND stated.
State-owned defence enterprises are also developing similar systems that are aimed at military users. For example, the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) unveiled its road-mobile LW-30 laser system at the 2018 edition of Airshow China in Zhuhai.
The LW-30 is designed to engage precision-guided munitions and low-flying aerial platforms including UAVs. The system is based on a six-wheeled tactical truck that features a roof-mounted remote turret armed with a 30 kW-class laser effector.
A typical LW-30 unit is understood to comprise a radar-equipped command and control (C2) vehicle for battlefield control and communications, a logistical support vehicle, as well as one or more laser-armed vehicles. The system can be incorporated into a wider ground-based air defence network to increase its effectiveness.
Singapore: 40mm C-UAV ammunition
Cognisant that 40mm grenade launchers are in extensive service in military and security forces around the world, Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering Land Systems is leveraging on its 40mm ammunition research and development experience and global market dominance to push its C-UAS for infantry squad applications.
According to company specifications, a 40mm C-UAS package includes a programming unit – featuring a laser rangefinder that has a range of 500m – that can be mounted via a MIL-STD 1913 rifle or grenade launcher accessory rail, which the operator uses to set the detonation range of the C-UAS grenade.
Each C-UAS grenade weighs 243g and carries a metal streamer payload, which is designed to be deployed in a UAV’s flight path to foul its propellers, causing it to crash at a projected distance of around 300m.
The C-UAS grenade is designed to be launched from a wide range of grenade launchers on the market, including the AG36, HK69A1, M203, M79, MK13, M32A1, Rippel Effect MGL, and STK 40GL.
South Korea: Mobile C-UAV platform
South Korean RF detection and jamming specialist BA Solutions has partnered with vehicle manufacturer Daeji P&I to develop the Transportable Drone Defense System (TD2S), which is derived from Daeji’s four-wheeled Tambora armoured personnel carrier and intended to offer a protected and rapidly deployable C-UAV capability.
The vehicle, which was launched in September 2018, is protected against small-arms fire as well as UAV-borne IEDs. It is equipped with a roof-mounted BA Solutions RF-spectrum sensor to detect active UAVs at ranges of up to 5km, which cues the operator to engage a directional RF and satellite navigation jammer to disrupt potential aerial threats should they approach within a 3km radius.
Interestingly, the TD2S is also fitted with its own Aegis-CD multirotor UAV that is equipped with net launchers that can physically disable or capture UAV threats. According to BA Solutions, the Aegis-CD features frequency hopping CDMA or LTE control that enables it to function even when the vehicle’s RF jammer is active.
The company also offers an optional solid-state 3D radar system, which has a maximum range of 10 km, that can improve detection accuracy and speed.
Meanwhile, UK-based electronic-scanning radar and sensor solution provider Blighter Surveillance Systems has developed the Blighter A400 series micro Doppler air security/UAV detection radars that can find hard to detect targets such as nano- and micro-class UAVs at ranges between 10m to 2.4km and larger aircraft as far as 10km, as well as covertly operated air vehicles that navigate via autonomous means and therefore do not emit RF signals. UAVs that are hover-drifting and travelling at speeds over 400 km/h can also be detected.
According to the company, the A400 series radars are modular non-rotating, electronic-scanning systems using power-efficient passive electronically scanned array (PESA) and frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) technologies. The radars also feature Digital Drone Detection (D3) technology that enables them to extract tiny radar reflections from modern plastic-bodied UAVs even when they are flying close to the ground or near buildings where clutter reflections are prevalent.
“This technology is already deployed along the Korean Demilitarized Zone,” Mark Radford, CEO of Blighter Surveillance Systems, told AMR.
Blighter Surveillance Systems has also partnered with Chess Dynamics and Enterprise Control Systems to develop the mission-proven Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS), which is an integrated UAV track, identify and defeat system based on its A400 series radars.
The system has been sold and deployed in military C-UAS applications since 2016, including by US forces in Iraq. It operates at a range of up to 10km and can defeat a hostile UAV in approximately 15 seconds. The company also claims that the AUDS can counter a swarm attack.
“The AUDS system has successfully defeated close to 2,000 UAV [intrusions] and has been tested against more than 60 types of UAVs, including fixed wing aircraft and quadcopters,” Radford told AMR. “AUDS has defeated more than 500 UAVs in theatre…with [a notable success of] 70 UAVs in one day.”
by JR Ng