Counter-UAV Tactical Responses – Insights from US DoD Experiment 2021

Photo illus. drone - by PIKIST
Photo illus. drone - by PIKIST

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By Or Shalom

In recent years, the threat of unmanned aerial vehicles on critical infrastructures and vessels has been a growing security challenge. The use and realization of these advanced technologies for observation and operational intelligence gathering, along with the conversion of capabilities of injury and physical damage, require preparation, formulating responses, and thwarting threats.

The 2019 attack on Aramco installations in Saudi Arabia caused heavy damages to infrastructure and production capabilities, dwindling to half of the daily extent. This incident clearly demonstrated the risks as well as the hurdles in disaster recovery. This is also relevant to UAV attacks on vessels at mid-sea. These incidents have demonstrated that in addition to cyberattacks there is also the possibility of a physical attack, including a remotely operated attack.

In addition to coping with long-range suicide explosive UAVs, there is also the need for tactical responses to confront local UAVs and drones. During the Heathrow and Gatwick airports incidents in the UK, drones succeeded in disrupting and even halting airport operations, including flight cancellations. These incidents have led to a rethinking regarding the need for advanced technological systems and their acquisition in order to intercept UAVs and drones.

Choosing the right response must be based on the analysis of possible tactical threats with regard to a certain perimeter. For example, the insight that system deployment in the field, e.g. radars or large-area jamming systems, can help neutralize longer-range threats.

In November 2019, the US Secretary of Defense appointed a DoD representative in an attempt to focus efforts and lead collaborations in the following major aspects:

  • Enhancing capabilities through innovation
  • Developing hardware-based or other (software) capabilities in order to cope with the threat and neutralize adversary capabilities.
  • Broadening collaborations with allies to deal optimally with the threats.

In the tactical arena, advanced anti-drone solutions are available. These include, among others, kinetic-based systems or systems that integrate blocking or jamming capabilities against drones. Blocking and jamming are sometimes influenced by problematic (urban) environments, safety constraints, possible consequences of technological blocking in the area, skilled human resources, etc. So adequate alternatives must be considered. 

For example, risk analysis regarding drone threats to prison installations will take into account the terrain, as well as statistical data and the popular use of drones for weapon and hazardous materials smuggling, or operational intelligence gathering. This will form the basis for the specification of blocking- and jamming-based neutralizing systems. 

In the critical infrastructures arena and open outdoors, rapid destruction systems and kinetic capabilities are preferable. Sometimes, there are environmental constraints. Such was the case of the drone incident involving Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. The units securing VIPs and state leaders must prepare for similar scenarios.  

During August and September, the Pentagon completed testing in a desert region in Arizona, designed to find a tactical, commercial solution. The following models were included:

  • Northrop Grumman’s XM1211
  • Smash Hopper from Smart Shooter
  • Dronebuster Flex force
  • IXI’s DroneKiller
  • MKIII DroneGun

During the three-week testing, kinetic and electronic warfare-based systems (the DroneKiller and DroneGun). Of interest was the definition for low-cost solutions, up to $15,000, for stationary or gun posts (for manual use) with cost up to $37,000 per system.

The testing demonstrated impressive results and reflected the capabilities of the professional teams to make improvements according to feedback from the testing.

Sources include:

-Department of Defense Counter Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy

-Eliyahu Mashhadi, Yossi Oren, and Gera Weiss Ben Gurion University of The Negev, Israel, Can the operator of a drone be located by following the drone’s path? 

Or ShalomSecurity and cyber expert and consultant to government ministries and defense industries, international business development consultant for companies in the fields of HLS and cyber and leads centers of excellence and advanced training programs in Cyber and HLS for various organizations in the civilian, security, industry, and academic sectors. He holds a master’s degree, as well as civil and national qualifications in the realm of HLS and Cyber Security. He has experience in security, innovation, planning, and characterization of technological security systems, HLS, and Cyber preparedness.