Drone warfare has become a critical component of modern-day military conflicts. Militant groups around the world, including those present in Gaza and Lebanon in the Middle East, and in Ukraine, are purchasing relatively inexpensive drones and outfitting them with explosives. These small commercial or “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) drones can fly long distances and are used to wage asymmetrical warfare including deadly terror attacks on military bases or troops, tracking of troop formations and strategic assets, and even the targeting of top military personnel for assassination. Conventional militaries are increasingly relying on drones, too, to eliminate top terrorists, see over ridge-lines, arrange for more accurate targeting, and adjust mortar fire.
But while the battlefield is quickly shifting, defenses against evolving drones and scenarios have remained surprisingly static. In fact, many of today's traditional counter-unmanned aerial systems (C-UASs) were designed based on military concepts that made sense a few years back, but quickly show shortcomings in the asymmetrical battlefield.
The long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shifted the paradigm. Back in 2016, militants in Afghanistan began using commercial drones that could easily be purchased online. They attached small explosive devices to their drones, transforming them into remotely piloted bombs.
These rogue drone deployments created a layered challenge for counterforces from the U.S. and other western nations. They attempted to stop the drones while operating in urban and sensitive environments, where the presence of civilians and non-military infrastructure made the likelihood of collateral damage significantly higher. Kinetic counter-solutions, which involve shooting down the drone, are risky in urban environments. A projectile, the plummeting metal drone, or fractured pieces of metal can quickly turn lethal in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians. They can also risk "friendly-fire" casualties in the fog of asymmetrical warfare situations.
Jamming-based solutions, or hybrid solutions featuring jammers for mitigation, may affect radio communications, which are critical for soldiers. And jamming solutions do not provide full control, as drone operators can regain access to the drone when the jamming ceases.
Moreover, even before mitigation measures to defeat hostile drones, there is the challenge of detection. Here, traditional solutions are equally problematic as the main component of a counter-drone solution for today's military forces. For detection, radars, for example, generate false alarms and noisy urban environments present challenges for acoustic solutions. Electro-optical C-sUASs require a clear line-of-sight, which is often unavailable due to buildings and other tall objects.
Today's battlefield requires a counter-drone solution that is surgical and innovative. It must be able to cope with detection challenges around tall buildings and other objects, circumvent the challenges presented by surrounding noise and radio waves not emanating from rogue drones, and distinguish between authorized and adversarial drones.
An effective counter-drone solution for militaries will also allow troops to collect precious intelligence from downed enemy drones. Kinetic solutions, which damage UASs, destroy that valuable intelligence and jammers do not capture the drone or accurately determine the pilot's location, leaving military teams without many clues for preventing future attacks.
Radio frequency-based, cyber-takeover counter-drone solutions resolve these challenges and represent a step forward in the evolution of C-sUASs. These solutions detect unauthorized or rogue drones, identify them, and then take control, landing them in a safe area, without generating false positives, requiring line-of-sight, disrupting communications systems, or causing collateral damage. This technology can passively scan and detect unique communication signals used by a commercial drone, classify drones as authorized or rogue, and decode the telemetry signal to pinpoint the drone takeoff position with GPS accuracy.
Militaries can designate certain sUASs as authorized, so these drones can continue to perform their vital functions without interruption during the rogue drone mitigation process. And by pinpointing the pilot's location at the point of takeoff, the military can focus on the terror source, ending the cycle of repeat attacks.
Cyber-takeover technology can be affixed to a military vehicle to offer a bubble of protection, so forces can enjoy full mobility without limitations imposed by the rogue drone threat. By operating mostly in passive mode, takeover technology maintains the element of surprise by not electronically unmasking military units. Other counter-drone methods, such as radars, may emit signals that can provide a trail of breadcrumbs to terrorists, leading them and their anti-radar missiles directly to the target.
Cyber-takeover technologies, like those provided by D-Fend Solutions, function by passively and continuously scanning and detecting unique communication signals used by commercial drones. Once detected, they extract the drone identifiers for drone identification and classification and decode the telemetry signal to extract the drone position with GPS accuracy, as well as its take-off position near the pilot in real time.
During the mitigation process, the drone user pilot then loses control of the drone, including video and telemetry information. He cannot regain control over the drone until the process is completed. Meanwhile, the cyber-takeover technology emits a non-jamming solution that transmits a precise and short signal, taking control over the rogue drone without interfering with other drones and communication signals.
Controlling rogue drones and reaping the accompanying intelligence is critical on today's battlefield. Traditional solutions are under fire for not measuring up to these requirements, while cyber-takeover technology continues to evolve along with militants’ commercial drone technology.
This article was written by Jeffrey Starr, Counter-Drone Specialist, D-Fend Solutions (McLean, VA). For more information, visit here .