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.