Drones market has been booming and has become an integral part of daily use for consumer applications like photography, drone racing and training. Its commercial applications include aerial surveillance, terrain mapping, law and order, government administration. Drones have also proved their utilization in industrial sectors for aerial imagery of industrial, construction and mining sites. These drones, when integrated with post-processing solutions, provide post-processing business analytics like 3D mapping & twin model creation, industrial gas detection, power line inspections, wind and solar farm surveying and many other applications.
Drones have proved to reduce inspection costs and time and perform timely maintenance. Every developed technology has its attractive advantages, but a few mischievous activities have highlighted a few disadvantages. To control unauthorized use and drones and avoid malicious use of drones causing a hazard, counter-drone solutions have been implemented.
Why counter-drone solutions?
Everyday new set of commercial, consumer and military drones are added to the airspace serve certain applications and the count has reached millions. Introducing drones into the airspace with a higher number have realized certain disadvantages which can put lives at risk. There have been a few instances where drones have breached security and safety. Usage of drones near sensitive areas like airports, military bases and security-sensitive sites has led to ‘shutdown of airports’ and military services have gunned down these drones. The entry of drones in unauthorized areas has led tech-companies to focus on developing counter-drone technology aka counter-UAS or C-UAS technology. These counter-drone solutions are devices which can track or intercept drones.
Drones have been visualized as weapons with its design advantage of compact and robust size, low cross-section where they go undetected. Drones flown in sensitive areas which are not authorized are called rogue drones. These drones need to be detected, identified, neutralized/intercepted before they could cause a potential threat. A few instances where drones have caused disruption;
Gatwick airport shutdown: The world’s busiest runway was shut down for 33 hours cancelling over 1,000 flights and halting over 150,000 travellers.
Saudi Aramco oil facility drone attack, Saudi Arabia.
There were other instances of drone attacks but considering these two instances, drones can be a potential threat if misused.
Technology companies have developed various counter-drone solutions to detect drones. Their solutions revolve around Detection, Tracking and Identification. These technologies use Radar, Radio-frequency (RF), Electro-optical (EO), Infrared (IR), Acoustic sensors. Military-grade drone detection systems are developed with a combination of multiple sensors for detection. These technology companies have thought afar and have developed multiple platforms for drone detection like fixed mounts, vehicle-mounted and handheld systems.
Fixed-mount drones detection systems are standalone systems installed at airports, military bases, and critical infrastructure sites. Here, the installed drone detection systems include features like Detection, Tracking, Identification, Alerting and Mitigation. Solutions developed by Liteye; ADIS, smart-sensor ground surveillance-based remote detection of small UAS, providing situational awareness and uses Advanced EO sensors to track the rogue drones. Other solutions include Aaronia’s RR Drone/radar detection system, Advanced Radar Technologies’ Drone Sentinel and FLIR’s Ranger. Another company, DeDrone has deployed software DroneTracker 4 which detects, localizes, and tracks simultaneous drones. The solution is capable of providing Drone Flight Pattern Recognition which provides airspace analytics to understand patterns in drone activity and ‘Heatmaps’ a Visual hotspot interface will enable a quick overview of unauthorized drone activity.
Apart from the standard fixed mount standalone drone detection systems, the companies have developed a variety of drone detection and mitigation. Drone neutralization systems include DroneGuns, man-portable, vehicle mount or drone mount systems. These systems can be used in far sites where the fixed mount drone systems cannot be accessed.
How does drone neutralization work?
Drones are operated either through constant communication through a link with the operator through a communication link or the flights are pre-planned. For drones with a communication link, RF/GNSS Jammer and spoofing is used to neutralize the drones where the communication link is jammed and the rogue drone is disconnected. For pre-planned flight drones, Lasers, nets, armed projectiles are launched to either confiscate the drone or eliminate the rogue drone threat.
Smart drone neutralization systems are developed by companies like Delft Dynamics has developed a drone catcher solution which is a net gun-armed multi-copter solution.
For vehicle-mount systems, Silent Archer developed by SRC with detect, track, classify, identify and disrupt small unmanned airborne threats. SRC has secured $108 million contract to deliver vehicle-integrated Silent Archer counter-drone system that uses radar, cameras and jamming technology. Israel based D-Fend solutions; a mass-adopted counter-drone system developer has raised $28 million in funding. It develops autonomous counter-drone perimeter security system which autonomously detects, identifies and intercepts intruding drones.
DroneShield launched compact-vehicle mounted counter-drone solution, DroneSentry-X that performs automatic detect and defeat drones. It offers real-time mobile situational awareness with the ability to automatically counter the drone detected threats.
Governments and defence departments have been heavily investing in counter-UAS solutions. DOD invested $900 million on counter-UAS solutions under The DOD’s C-UAS Strategy. DOD has diverted its funds from developing drone technologies to counter-drone technologies to secure the zones.
Other C-UAS developer companies are been funded by the Defense Forces like; Ascent Vision Technologies secured a contract of $23 million to supply mobile counter-drone vehicles for the eXpeditionary Mobile Air Defense Integrated System program. Raytheon, a Military drone developer is working on ATHENA, a high-energy laser system.
Soon counter-drone systems would be an integral part of aerial unmanned traffic management (UTM) system, where companies are working to develop softwares to integrate drones to airspace. Companies like Airmap, Altitude Angel, CerbAir, Involi and Flarm Technology have partnered to provide integrated, comprehensive solutions for low-altitude airspace safety and security. Technology companies are developing a comprehensive suite of UAS management and detection solutions. Flight planning softwares are available which provide real-time information about the no-fly zones and don’t allow the drone operators to fly the drones in the no-fly zones.
To secure airspace, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has partnered with Fortem Technologies to showcase SkyDome Network defence platform and demonstrate C-UAS capability. For term, technologies have developed ThreatAware platform and an autonomous drone interceptor, DroneHunter. For term has been invited to showcase its C-UAS capability for “Comparative Analysis of Lethal, Low Collateral Damage Effectors Against Low, Small and Slow UAV” program where C-UAS will be evaluated for drone mitigation solutions for small, dangerous UAV. Also, DroneShield has partnered Altitude Angel to develop ‘single-point situational awareness’ for managed airspace such as national governments and airport operators.
Counter-Drone Technology, What’s Next?
Counter drone systems have started acting as a second degree of surveillance technology across the industries. Drone detection systems and counter-drone solutions have developed to an advanced level within a short period of time. Soon expect the counter-drone equipment could be modular and compact where multiple drone detection systems could be integrated. Integrating civilian and commercial UAVs into manned airspace through UTM would require remote identifications. Remote IDs equipped drones will provide remote information access about drone model type, operator’s identity, application of drone operation, time of flight and location. The remote ID will play a crucial for drone identification and narrow the C-UAS challenge. Governments have been working with the companies to enable the airspace through UTM. Switzerland has partnered Skyguide and Airmap to develop flight information management system (FIMS) for drones. This cloud-connected data exchange hub allows service providers to connect and receive information from Skyguide’s Air Traffic Management (ATM) system.
Another way of detecting drones, video surveillance may also present itself as a promising technology to identify drones. IP camera and Video Management System companies have started developing passive drone detection capability. Their solutions are focused on software solutions and IP cameras. Integrating C-UAS with Artificial Intelligence (AI), Threat prediction software will enable faster mitigation response. AI will drive innovation with both AI-based visual transportation sensors used for object recognition and traffic flow analysis. More features like airspace mapping, central command and control systems, and rogue drone tracking.
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