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The British Army used a cutting-edge Israeli anti-drone system to defeat the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that brought misery to hundreds of thousands of people at Gatwick airport.
At first, the Police had been seen with an off-the-shelf DJI system that tracks drones made by that manufacturer and shows officers where the operator is. However, the drone used at Gatwick is thought to have been either hacked or an advanced non-DJI drone, which rendered the commercial technology used by the police useless, reports dailymail.co.uk.
At that point, the Army’s ‘Drone Dome’ system made by the Israeli Rafael was called in.
Six ‘Drone Dome’ systems were bought by the British Army in 2018 for £15.8 million. A similar system was used by British and US special forces to protect them from drones while liberating Mosul in Iraq and neutralise ISIS drones in Syria, but passengers trapped at Gatwick are furious the weapons were not brought in earlier.
Army officers use a high-tech radar and a laser rangefinder to locate drones within a 2.1 and 6.2 miles radius. Once the system has a lock on the drone, a radio frequency jammer is then used to overload the drone with signals – knocking out the commands from the unknown owner.
This can be used to make a ‘soft-kill’ and cease control of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and land it safely.
The British Army did not buy a version equipped with a high-powered laser which can make a ‘hard-kill’ on drones by effectively melting them.
The system is an ‘end-to-end system designed to provide effective airspace defence against hostile drones used by terrorists to perform aerial attacks, collect intelligence, and other intimidating activities’, according to Rafael. It uses four radars to give full 360° coverage to scan the entire skyline. This detection process can spot transport aircraft from about 31 miles away but for a smaller UAV, like the one used to terrorise Gatwick, the ‘Drone Dome’ can only offer a detection range of between 2.1 and 6.2 miles.
The system allows the authorities to perform a ‘soft-kill’ when the detection programme is integrated with the radio frequency jammer. An antennae made of gallium nitrate is used and this allows the tech to be portable and easy to set up.
Police were forced to turn to the military devices after failing with commercially available technology. They first tried to identify the location of the drone and its operator by using a briefcase-sized piece of commercially available equipment called AeroScope. It is believed to be on loan at Gatwick airport from COPTRZ, however, it is only able to identify DJI drones from the extensive database provided by the Chinese manufacturer. This ground-based device is used throughout industry and at many events to ensure protection from drones.