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Counter – UAV Systems By Nick Watts


The rapid evolution of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from a futuristic military system which was the preserve of militaries and government agencies, to a small hobby kit available to all, demonstrates how easily technology can be repurposed. Multi-million dollar systems such as Reaper, designed to undertake long endurance surveillance or strike missions, are now bracketed together with small cheap systems available off the shelf from the local hobby shop.

Oxford Research Group (ORG) published a report in 2016, which recognised that the civil and commercial market for unmanned aerial vehicles has grown significantly over the previous five years. The increasing uptake by the commercial sector resulted in the growing numbers of US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) exemptions for drone operators to fly UAVs in the National Airspace System (NAS). The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a similar licensing regime. As of 11 September 2015, the CAA has issued 1,036 current UAV licences, with an estimated 37% of licences for models in the 7-20 kilogram weight class. The civil or hobbyist market is also showing significant growth. Some estimates have the global civil and commercial UAV sector valued at €563.7 million (£418 million).

The attraction of UAVs for the military and law enforcement agencies is their ability to loiter and due to the small size of some, to remain undetected. Most militaries, paramilitary forces and law enforcement agencies have now adopted the UAV as part of their capability. Typical missions undertaken are Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). Insurgents and criminal gangs have also adopted UAVs for their purposes. Some insurgents have a capability that matches that of local security forces.

Threat from UAVs

The evolution of UAV technology has meant that cheap and easy to assemble platforms have become available to insurgent and asymmetric fighters. These are improvised, weaponised systems which can achieve military effect with small alterations to their basic configuration. Such UAVs have been used extensively in Eastern Ukraine and Syria. For state actors, the option of ‘drone swarms’ represents an opportunity to overwhelm the defences of an enemy.

ORG identifies the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah as having the longest history of drone use by a non-state group. Hezbollah reportedly maintains a small fleet of UAVs, including Iranian Ababil and Mirsad platforms and their Hezbollah derivatives. In November 2004, Hezbollah allegedly flew an Iranian UAV over parts of northern Israel before returning to Lebanese territory. In August 2006, Hezbollah launched three small Ababil drones, some allegedly carrying explosive payloads, with the intention of attacking Israeli military targets. The drones were shot down by Israeli F-16s. In October 2012, Hezbollah allegedly flew a small Ayub drone 35 miles into Israeli airspace with the intention of undertaking reconnaissance on a nuclear reactor. An Israeli aircraft shot the drone down before it returned to Lebanon.

In the law enforcement sphere Mexican drug trafficking organisations have been documented using drones to smuggle illicit drugs across the US-Mexican border since 2010. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has recorded around 150 drone trips across the border since 2012. Nearly two tonnes of cocaine and other drugs are estimated to have been trafficked into the United States in this way, with an average of 13 kilograms of drugs per shipment.  In January 2015, a drone that crashed in Tijuana, Mexico, was carrying over three kilograms of methamphetamine. In August 2015, two men pleaded guilty to trafficking 12 kilograms of heroin across the US-Mexican border in the first cross-border seizure involving a drone.

Counter UAV developments

Security scenarios, which present challenges could be:

* The long-term static target, such as a foreign embassy or nuclear power station.

* The temporary static target, such as a G7 summit or a speech by a politician.

* The mobile target, such a military supply convoy or the prime minister’s car.

Theatres in which non-state actors could use drones as either an offensive weapon against Allied or Coalition assets or as an intelligence gathering tool could be:

* The overseas theatre, consisting of military operations, embassies and commercial sites and forces abroad. These are vulnerable to attack by terrorist or insurgent groups or to being targeted by activist groups protesting against government policy or the actions of corporations based in, or operating in coalition states.

* The domestic theatre, consisting of critical national infrastructure, military sites, government buildings and tourist sites. These could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks, disruption by activist groups or corporate espionage.

The worldwide market for counter-UAV technology is expected to grow from $342.6million in 2016 to $1.5billion by 2023, according to a July 2017 research report from Market and Markets. Non-kinetic electronic systems, are estimated to grow at the highest rate (CAGR of 30.9%) – during the forecast period. The counter-UAV market is crowded; as many as 65 different counter-UAV products have been identified by one contractor.

Regulatory barriers remain a constraint for the civilian market, as some of the jamming technology used can interfere with existing telecommunications and radar systems. Studies are underway in a number of countries to address this, such as the Pathfinder study undertaken by the FAA in the US, but at present, systems can only be licensed for local use.

Countering UAVs

Countering UAVs requires a layered approach, using both ‘soft kill’ methods, or by outright destruction. ‘Soft kill’ options are generally used in civilian situations or where there is a forensic requirement to recover evidence or gather data on the controlling entity. Microwave technology can also be used where destruction can be avoided, in a low intensity situation, without the risk of escalation. Hard kill options involve both kinetic means, as well as Directed Energy Weapons.

Studies undertaken to determine how best to address the UAV threat include the FAA Pathfinder programme designed to ensure the safe separation of air traffic from drones. The FAA has submitted a request for FY 2017 of $ 60m for a Next Gen programme looking at new technology, including a $9m allocation for separation management.  Congress has already authorized some $6m for a joint FAA / Department for Homeland Security study for ‘airspace hazard mitigation’

NATO has undertaken a study, undertaken by the NATO Industry Advisory Group (NIAG) into the threat posed by Low Slow and Small (LSS) unmanned aerial systems. This study (SG 200) derives from earlier work undertaken to optimize NATO’s doctrine towards Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) lead by Kongsberg. It was due to conclude in September 2017 and its results have yet to be promulgated.

In 2015 the US Department of Defense awarded Northrop Grumman a $53 m contract to evaluate the feasibility of a naval system. The challenges to be addressed include the need for adequate power to generate sufficient energy to achieve effect at range. The laser Weapons System (LaWS) went to sea with an initial capability of 30 KW. The US Navy is aiming to achieve a capability of between 100 – 150 KW. It hopes to install lasers on all of its combat ships by the early 2020s.

The US Army has adopted an approach to protect deployed formations via a C-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability (CMIC). In early 2017 a CMIC unit was integrated into training exercises with the 2nd Cavalry Field Artillery Squadron, as they prepared to deploy to Europe. The CMIC equipment is mounted in Stryker vehicles.


Countering UAVs can be as simple as shooting them down with conventional munitions; trapping them with nets, or by GPS jamming. Most of the smaller UAVs operate using known frequencies for their control and GPS guidance. Disrupting these systems requires government approval. Civilian agencies that wish to protect sensitive sites can use an ‘electronic fence’; such methods are being investigated to separate UAVs from aircraft in the vicinity of airfields. Law enforcement agencies also use this technique to deter the use of UAVs, around prisons, to deliver drugs.

As UAV technology has evolved, so methods for countering the UAV threat have evolved in parallel. A range of dedicated Counter – UAV solutions have begun to appear. These offer a turnkey solution – detection, classification and neutralisation, in one system. A similar process of adaptation was seen after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, once vulnerabilities were identified. Many of the major defence contractors have identified this sector as a growth area and have been adapting existing offerings, or are taking part in technology demonstrator studies.

The US has led the field in the realm of ‘military’ C-UAV studies as there was a realisation that deployed formations in the Middle East were at risk. However, many C-UAV offerings have been produced by agile British companies that have recognised the opportunity and brought solutions to market.


The principal challenge in countering UAVs is that of initial detection. The capacity for UAVs to fly low and slow and their small radar cross section presents a challenge to most conventional detection systems. Initial responses by military forces have seen the adaptation of battlefield surveillance systems and Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) systems to address the threat. Many of these systems have limited range, often no better than line of Sight. Mortar locating and counter battery radars can offer extended range, depending on how they are situated. SAAB has an adapted Giraffe radar system which it offers as a solution. This system has been adapted to track (LSS) targets.

Recent developments

The British AUDS consortium is typical of the SMEs that have been able to respond rapidly to this emerging opportunity. It has been able to field a system that detects a drone using the electronic scanning micro-Doppler radar, tracks it using a precision controlled infrared and daylight camera system incorporating advanced video tracking software before using a non-kinetic radio frequency (RF) inhibitor to defeat the drone. The operator can effectively disrupt the function of a drone enforcing an invisible impenetrable barrier. The system has been extensively field proven in harsh operational environments. It works in all weather, day or night and at all times the disruption response is flexible, proportional and operator controlled.

This system is effective against multi-mode swarm attacks due its multi-band radio frequency (RF) inhibitor which can simultaneously target multiple threat ‘bands’ to defeat the command and control (C2) links deployed on UAVs. These C2 links are constantly evolving within the emerging threat landscape and the AUDS RF inhibition system continues to demonstrate its flexibility to rapidly address these changes in response to operational demands.

AUDS mounted on a vehicle delivers a rapid ‘on-the-pause’ counter-UAV capability against drones attacking a temporary base, mobile force, convoy or a national infrastructure site.  It is already available in three standard configurations – a portable platform for rooftop installation, a rugged field-mast system for forward operating bases or temporary camps, and a fixed system for borders and critical infrastructure sites.

In June 2017 the Spanish Defence Ministry (Ministerio de Defensa) selected the AUDS counter-UAV system to protect critical assets and personnel from malicious unmanned aircraft systems or drones. The contract is estimated to be worth around €2million.

Looking ahead

The military requirement for C-UAV capability is now well recognised. The challenge for military forces is to acquire equipment and integrate it into their existing range of equipment. Tactical doctrines will also need to be developed; hopefully the work being done by NATO and the NIAG work study will accelerate this process.

Less straight forward will be how to address the ‘security’ challenge as various law enforcement and security agencies vie for funding and capability. The regulatory regime required for the operation of equipment which can interfere with other unrelated systems will also need careful study. The opportunity for duplication exists as government seek to advance national champions and gain market share. All the while the terrorist and criminal gangs will be able to improvise and adapt quickly.

The future character of conflict has already been characterized as complex. Recent events in the Middle East and in Ukraine bear this analysis out. Technology has often been an enabler for armed forces and security agencies. Countering UAVs in a coherent manner will require technical smarts as well as smart operators.

At DSEI, Orbital ATK showcased Tactical-Robotic Exterminator (T-REX), a mounted and integrated version of the combat-proven Liteye AUDS non-lethal Electronic Attack (EA) capability combined with the lethal defeat capability of the Orbital ATK XM914 30mm BUSMASTER Chain Gun. This new mounted system integrated with tactical radar detection and electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) sensors, provides great Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) identification and tracking followed by directional radio frequency (RF) defeat exceeding all users’ threshold operational requirements. With T-REX, the operator has the choice of non-lethal, or lethal defeat leveraging Orbital ATK’s XM914 Chain Gun and advanced ammunition (30x113mm) specifically designed to defeat Class 1 and 2 UAS. (Source: Monch)



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