The numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are multiplying rapidly. Some are used for reconnaissance, but others are increasingly used with malicious intent and constitute a growing threat both on and off the battlefield. UAVs are seen as a new threat because of their low cost and ease of use. Governments everywhere are searching for ways to counter the threat.
Increasing incidents of drones flying over sensitive facilities, including nuclear reactors and airports, has spurred demand for systems to keep them at bay. As the sale of commercial and private drones increase, so are instances of them being flown in areas they shouldn’t be.
In the early hours of January 2015, a recreational drone, known as a quadcopter, crashed into a tree on the White House lawn undetected. In this case, an off duty intelligence agency employee claimed responsibility and no harm was done. But in other cases, such as the drone that landed on the Japanese Prime Minister’s office, the result could have been worse. The drone was about 50cm in diameter and had four propellers, carrying a small camera and a plastic bottle with unidentified contents inside – which was reported to have traces of radiation, sparking concerns about drones and their possible use for terrorist attacks.
In October 2014, unidentified drones managed to fly over nuclear power plants in France, raising questions about the security of nuclear facilities. France is the world’s most nuclear-dependent country, operating 58 reactors.
One very challengingthreat could be swarms of small drones consisting of many (perhaps even hundreds) of UAVs attacking simultaneously.
Civil and military authorities clearly have a need for ways to detect, identify, classify and neutralize any type of hostile UAVs in any setting. They need a full range of sensors, effectors and command-and-control systems based.
Based on present and future conflicts, the ability to protect critical infrastructure and mobile operations from loss of air superiority poses a great threat not only to the Department of Defense, but other government agencies having to deal with life support system (LSS) air vehicles.
Discrimination and identification
Identification of friendly or enemy aircraft is both critical and problematic. While allowing missions by friendly forces, the parallel dealing with the threat posed by weaponized and intelligence gathering Class 1 and 2 UAVs presents a challenge.
Discernment (is it a bird or a drone?) and identification (is it friendly or an enemy drone?) is provided by utilizing a System of Systems approach, which includes radar, acoustics, EO/IR cameras and electronic signatures. Selectively defeating identified enemy threats in a battle space of blue and red forces can thus be accomplished selectively with either kinetic or non-kinetic means.
Black dart exercises
Last month, the joint US military services held their "Black Dart" exercises aimed at demonstrating and testing the latest counter-UAS (C-UAS) technologies for defense against unmanned aerial vehicles flown by terrorists and rogue states.
Black Dart is an annual US military joint exercise where vendors demonstrate their latest countermeasures against enemy drones, ranging from jamming their signal source; taking direct control of them; shooting them down with high-powered lasers and ground-to-air missiles; and deplying counter-drones designed to conduct air-to-air combat missions.
As in the past, this year’s Black Dart tested defensive systems of all types against drones of all sizes, from those as big as the 116-foot wingspan RQ-4 Global Hawk to mini- and micro-drones launched from tubes or by hand.
The military categorizes UAS by size and capability, from Group 5 drones that weigh more than 1,320 pounds and can fly above 18,000 feet like the Reaper, to Group 1, mini- and micro-drones less than 20 pounds that fly lower than 1,200 feet. Previous Black Dart exercises have covered threats to troops overseas and targets at home posed by drones of all sizes.
But it’s small drones that have become the main focus.
One of the most active participants at Black Dart 2015 was SRC, Inc. of North Syracuse, New York, a not-for-profit company formerly affiliated with Syracuse University that develops solutions for customers in the defense, environment and intelligence industries.
SRC has been developing radars and working in electronic warfare, air surveillance and target detection, tracking and classification algorithms to help defend against hostile unmanned aircraft systems.
“We have existing, proven technologies that can be applied to the unmanned aircraft system (also known as drone) surveillance and disruption needs of our customers," said Dave Bessey, SRC’s Business Development Director and Counter-UAS program.
Experts believe radar is the best solution for detecting and classifying UAS when compared to other potential solutions. For example, using a camera for surveillance provides too narrow a field of view. Alternatively, employing an acoustic solution is also problematic because the range is too short to provide a reasonable amount of time to react, as was experienced in Washington, DC and France, where the UAV may be flying in large and noisy urban environments.
A single radar, however, can electronically scan a much larger volume of space very quickly and at significantly longer ranges, providing advance notice of an intrusion and allowing more time to determine the proper course of action.
Test results at another Black Dart helped SRC write software tying together three devices to create a drone counter-measure “system of systems.”
For disruption, a variety of measures can be employed to deliver a layered defense scheme. SRC specializes in electronic warfare systems that can be used first to help in classifying and identifying the hostile drone, then to provide a means of engaging it electronically.
Electronic warfare (EW) is especially useful when the threat comes in the form of a swarm formation of drones, since all the targets can be engaged simultaneously — whereas a more conventional method of using a missile might only be able to take down a few UAS with one hit. Nevertheless, these kinetic countermeasures are still necessary given that EW measures along may not be enough. Industry experts recommend users need a variety of sensors as part of their solution. It also helps to integrate them so each system can cue the next.
The kill chain
The kill chain for C-UAS is similar to the classical air defense kill chain, meaning the requirement to detect and track the aircraft, identify whether it’s a threat, determine a course of action and then engage the target. In the case of the C-UAS mission, multiple sensors, including radar, EO/IR camera and EW equipment to provide detection, tracking and identification are necessary. Defeat C-UAS may include traditional kinetic anti-aircraft systems, directed energy weapons, EW techniques, etc.
An integrated detect-track-disrupt Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) developed by UK-based companies Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics and Enterprise Control Systems features a quad band radio frequency inhibitor/jammer, an optical disruptor and rapid deployment features in the final production version of the market leading counter-drone system. These enhancements follow extensive customer trials of the pre-production system across Europe and North America over the spring and summer.
The AUDS system is designed to combat the growing threat of malicious micro, mini and larger UAVs or drones. The system can detect a drone five miles away using electronic scanning radar, track it using infrared and daylight cameras and specialist software before disrupting the flight using an inhibitor to block the radio signals that control it.
According to the AUDS team, "the speed with which new features have been added to the system since the launch in May, demonstrates both the agility and flexibility of the trio of specialist companies. The quad band inhibitor enables the AUDS operator to disrupt the different licensed telemetry bands of commercial drones no matter where in the world they are designed and licensed for use. For example, both the 433 and 915 MHz frequencies commonly used by unmanned aircraft systems can be disrupted as can the 2.4 GHz control band and the global satellite bands.
At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, SRC worked with the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) to employ its LSTAR family of air surveillance radars for air defense. The system is an air surveillance radar designed to protect vital infrastructure and other high-value assets. Its unique 3-D and 360 degree electronic scanning capability enables reliable detection and tracking of a variety of airborne targets.
All sides in the worldwide drone wars have been working on countermeasures to neutralize each other’s attacks. Aside from radardetection and shooting drones down with land based missiles or airplanes, one viable countermeasure is jamming the frequencies used for navigation. A further step would be to intercept, or “hack,” into the signal that the controller transmits via satellite or aircraft and thereby gain control of the drone — and its technology.
Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, director of this year’s Black Dart, spoke about challenges in detecting specific categories of UAVs. “The limitations of radar and other detection methods make it harder to even see what the Defense Department calls LSS — low, slow and small,” Gregg said. “They are the same size as birds. Because they’re launched at a very close-in range, even if we can detect and track them right away, there may not be a whole lot of time to make a decision on what to do.”
Major national and international events have become targets for terrorist organizations, and the military is being called upon to provide low level air surveillance. While conventional military systems can provide the bulk of the required air defense capabilities, the scale of these systems often prevents them from being employed optimally. SRC’s LSTAR radar, however, can be mounted on a vehicle or employed for expeditionary missions due to its low profile, light weight and small footprint. It was designed to be set-up in 20 minutes by two soldiers.
Defense and security chiefs in Britain are concerned that the Islamic State (ISIS) could use drones packed with explosives to attack crowds at major events like football matches to kill untold numbers of people. Small drones are now available to purchase online for only a few hundred dollars. ISIS is obsessed with re-creating the horror of 9/11, and believes this may be possible by launching a multi-drone attack on large numbers of peoplein a synchronized attack.
Automation of C-UAS capability is the long-term goal. In order to completely integrate into either an operations center or a mobile command post, automation will be key to handling C-UAS as new drone threats continue to evolve. Integration of C2/target database will be critical to handling not only single, but multiple simultaneous threats in an environment where lack of automation will cause downstream issues in the ability to “timely” defeat enemy UASs before mission success is jeopardized.
“SRC has been focused on detecting and defeating hostile drones for many years,” said SRC Vice President of Product Accounts Tom Wilson. “We’ve developed field-proven technologies, integrated them together, and demonstrated our capabilities to detect, decide and defeat low, slow and small UAS at government-sponsored exercises like Black Dart. We’re committed to keeping America and allies safe from threats posed by hostile UAS.”
Joe Charlaff is a Senior Contributing Editor based in Jerusalem. His work has been published in Jane’s Homeland Security Review, Jane’s Defense Weekly and Jane’s International Defence Review. Charlaff also worked for The Jerusalem Post and served in the Israel Defense Force. He wrote, UAVs: Weapons of the Future?, in the April/May 2015 Homeland Security Today.
Photo: Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, Black Dart project officer, speaks to the media in front of a MQ-9 unmanned aircraft system, at Naval Base Ventura County and Sea Range, Point Mugu, Calif., July 31, 2015. The drone, Gregg said, is in the largest categories of UASs, or Group 5, flies at more than 18,000 feet in altitude and weighs more than 1,300 pounds. It was being used as part of the two-week Black Dart counter-UAS demonstration July 26 to Aug. 7 to assess and improve technologies, tactics and techniques used by DoD and its partners. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando.
Photo bottom: SRC,Inc. LSTAR air surveillance radar for reliably detecting and tracking unmanned aircraft systems.