Drone Mitigation Systems

Manufacturers and suppliers of military drone mitigation systems used in anti drone and CUAV defense operations
Overview Drone Mitigation Systems
By Dr Thomas Withington Last updated: January 5th, 2024

Drone Mitigation – the rise of UAVs

The rapid proliferation of Uninhabited or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the civilian and military domains has created a myriad of defensive challenges. UAVs are as old as powered flight. The British Royal Flying Corps, the precursor to the Royal Air Force, used crewless aircraft during the First World War. From 1917, the British experimented with radio-controlled planes to attack German Zeppelin airships. Zeppelins had been used from January 1915 to hit strategic targets in the United Kingdom. UAV research, development and deployment has continued ever since.

It was during the late 1980s when UAV proliferation gained momentum. The miniaturization of technology, notably electronics, allowed progressively lighter and smaller flight control systems to accommodate UAVs. Miniaturisation also let small UAVs carry lightweight cameras and other sensing payloads that would previously have been too heavy.

Advances in electronics and computing helped make UAVs increasingly easy to fly. It was no longer necessary for a pilot to fly their aircraft as they would a radio control plane, for example. Instead, they could input a series of waypoints allowing the UAV to fly a predetermined route that the aircraft would then follow with a minimum of human intervention. Meanwhile advances in materials science, as witnessed with the evolution of carbon fiber and plastics, helped develop small, lightweight UAVs.

This advent of small, lightweight and easy-to-fly uninhabited aircraft had two significant consequences: Firstly, UAVs could now be used at the lowest tactical level for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) missions. Uninhabited aerial vehicles were no longer restricted to large, complex airframes designed to support operational- or strategic-level ISR gathering. A small UAV could be used by a dismounted soldier for very short-range reconnaissance to see behind a building or across a hill.

Secondly, as is often the case, advances in military innovation span off into the civilian sector. The proliferation of small, comparatively low-cost military UAVs placed civilianised versions of this technology in the hands of the consumer.

By the 2010s UAVs, or drones as they are commonly called in the civilian world, were proliferating in electronics and hobby shops globally. These aircraft were not only being procured for recreational flying. The commercial sector wholeheartedly embraced drone technology. Today, UAVs are employed for a host of tasks from examining powerlines to agricultural and environmental monitoring.

Threat Profile – the need for Drone Jammers

UAV proliferation has created new threats:

  • In the civilian domain, sensitive and vulnerable sites must be safeguarded from unauthorized drone flights.
  • On the battlefield, troops must be kept safe from enemy UAVs.

In both cases, these aircraft could be gathering hostile ISR data on specific targets or worse, carrying ordnance to be dropped from the drone. In some cases, the aircraft may even be used in a ‘kamikaze’ fashion, loaded with explosives and deliberately crashed into a target.

The ongoing war in Ukraine illustrates the impact UAVs are having on warfare. A report by the United Kingdom’s Royal United Services Institute published in May 2023 claimed Ukraine was losing 10,000 UAVs per month in her battles against Russia. Unauthorized drone use continues to pose a threat in the civilian sector. In late December 2018, reports of a drone sighting near London’s Gatwick airport severely affected operations with up to 1,000 flights either canceled or diverted.

Mitigation

These threats are driving efforts to develop and deploy Counter-UAV (CUAV) systems for civilian and military applications. CUAV systems comprise sensors to detect, identify and track the aircraft and effectors to neutralize it. Sensors can include radar, optronics, acoustic means, and Electronic Support Measures (ESMs).

These sensors electromagnetically detect a UAV by using Radio Frequency (RF), infrared or visible light emissions (radar, ESM and optronics) or the sound of the drone’s engines and rotors. Once detected the drone can be identified, and if determined as presenting a threat, neutralized.

Neutralisation of the aircraft can be achieved through kinetic effects which include engaging the drone with projectiles like bullets or nets. UAVs can also be neutralized electronically by jamming the RF links they rely on to connect them to their pilot and to obtain global navigation satellite system signals for navigation.

However, neutralizing UAVs presents its own challenges. Many drones can be physically small and quiet making them hard to detect electronically, visually and acoustically. Likewise, their small size makes them difficult targets to engage kinetically, which explains why jamming their RF links offers potential.

These challenges underscore why a CUAV industry has emerged as UAVs have increased in popularity. As drone technology advances so will the capabilities to neutralize UAVs both on and off the battlefield.

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