Unmanned aerial vehicles have a long history of military use. In fact, UAVs originally were developed in the mid-1800s strictly for military purposes, and they have evolved significantly since then.
Although UAVs are not a new threat to warfighters, the attainability and affordability of commercial drones have made them far more common, increasing their associated danger. Consequently, as the need for drone technology continues to grow, so does the need for effective counter-drone systems.
Today, we’re going to review the six major types of anti-drone technology and their advantages to the maneuver force.
What Threats Do Drones Pose to Warfighters?
UAVs have come a long way from only being used by militaries. Today, professionals and hobbyists use drones for a variety of applications, including agriculture, construction, law enforcement, and photography.
As of January 2022, the FAA had registered over 856,000 drones in the United States, and those numbers are increasing rapidly. Statista estimated that the global commercial drone market will grow at an annual rate of over 16% between 2021 and 2026—jumping from $27.4 billion to $58.4 billion U.S. dollars.
Because drones continue to gain popularity and potential uses, they now pose a bigger threat to the defense landscape than ever before. With a wide range of sizes and advanced features, UAVs are employed for many nefarious purposes, including:
- Surveilling U.S. military sites
- Attacking critical personnel and infrastructure
- Destroying armored vehicles and air defense systems
- Conducting airstrikes
From large combat UAVs to cheap, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) quadcopters, our warfighters encounter hostile drones of all sizes and capabilities. Therefore, having new-age military drone defenses plays a vital role in mitigating these threats.
What is Anti-Drone Technology?
The availability of UAVs has birthed an urgent need for innovative countermeasures against drones. According to BIS Research, the worldwide counter-UAS industry is expected to expand by 15.1% within the next decade, from $1.57 billion in 2021 to $6.44 billion in 2031.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is a major player in the development efforts for C-UAS, utilizing anti-drone technology to counter UAV threats, maintain air dominance, and provide situational awareness to warfighters.
Integrated, multi-sensor anti-drone systems are most effective for C-UAS missions. For optimal protection and awareness, a counter-drone system should perform the following functions:
A sensor detects the presence of a potential drone.
2. Classification and Identification
A sensor classifies the detected object as a drone (rather than, say, a bird) and identifies what type of drone it is. Some sensors can even recognize the controller’s MAC address.
3. Locating and Tracking
A sensor tracks the location of the drone (and possibly the operator) in real time.
Drone defeat technology is employed to disable and/or destroy the drone.
Now, let’s take a deeper look at six different types of counter-drone equipment that are used to detect, classify, track, and neutralize hostile UAVs.
6 Types of Anti-Drone Technology
To stay a step ahead of their enemies, modern warfighters need the most advanced technologies for military drone defense. We’ve separated anti-drone technology into two categories: kinetic effectors and non-kinetic effectors.
Kinetic Counter UAV Devices:
Kinetic counter UAV measures work to physically disarm an enemy drone. This typically requires directed energy technology or traditional munitions. Here are three common kinetic neutralization techniques.
1. High Energy Lasers (HEL)
A high-energy optical device produces an extremely focused beam of light—a laser beam—to destroy the drone at the speed of light. Although HEL technology is more costly than other effector technology it has been fielded and test successfully adding a valuable capability to the warfighter. HEL systems have been fielded both as prototypes and operationally with excellent performance.
Traditional munitions such as guns and missiles can be used in conjunction with a targeting system to shoot down rogue drones. Much like HEL, this technique is effective, but has a heightened risk of collateral damage.
To reduce that risk, warfighters also fire net cannons from the ground to capture enemy drones. The nets effectively stop the drone by impeding its rotor blades, causing it to fall from the sky. Some drone nets are even outfitted with parachutes for a controlled descent. This ensures that the rogue drone stays intact so it can be used for intelligence or evidence.
The phrase “fight fire with fire” applies to drones as well. Warfighters can deploy drones for C-UAS missions against enemy drones and swarms. Counter-UAV drones such as Lockheed Martin’s MORFIUS and Raytheon’s Coyote eliminate hostile drones using kinetic payloads.
UAVs are also used to deploy drone nets, which aren’t always as accurate as ground-fired net cannons, but have a longer range. An example of this is SCI’s AeroGuard which is a fully autonomous drone system that captures and disposes of threat UAVs.
Non-Kinetic Counter UAV Devices:
Non-kinetic anti-drone technology works to disarm an enemy drone without actively shooting it down with a laser, gun, or missile. Instead, electromagnetic energy is used strategically to either assume control of the UAV, jam its communication with the operator, or use high-power electromagnetic energy to disable the drone electronics. Here are three common non-kinetic methods of military drone defense.
4. Radio Frequency (RF) Jammers
An RF jammer is a device that transmits a large amount of radiofrequency radiation toward a hostile drone to interfere with its communications. RF jammers often disrupt multiple RF bands simultaneously, blocking the signals between the UAV and its operator. This results in one of the following situations:
- The drone lands safely in its current location.
- The drone falls to the ground uncontrollably.
- The drone returns to a set home location.
- The drone flies off in a random direction.
While RF jammers will effectively mask the drone’s controller signals, they can also disrupt other radio transmissions like air traffic control.
5. High Power Microwave Devices (HPM)
A high-powered microwave device generates an incredibly strong electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to disrupt targeted electronics. These devices are often equipped with an antenna to control the direction of the EMP to avoid wrongfully damaging other electronics in range. That said, the HPM can still unintentionally impact friendly communications and devices.
When aimed at an enemy drone, the EMP voltage will disrupt and possibly even destroy the electronic circuitry within the device, causing it to uncontrollably fall to the ground in an instant.
Radar is the primary detection and tracking solution for counter-drone systems. All other C-UAS payloads rely on the radar to provide accurate tracking and classification information for neutralization.
Radar devices function by emitting electromagnetic (radio) signals to detect aerial objects. The radar receives a reflected signal from the object, or an “echo,” which allows it to measure the object’s range, velocity, and angular direction with precision.
Traditional military radar was created to track large aircraft, proving them incapable of detecting smaller UAVs without expensive modification or upgrade. Modern anti-drone radar systems have far more advanced features to provide full hemispheric coverage and detect even the smallest threats.
Advanced Anti-Drone Technology: RADA USA Radar Solutions
RADA USA’s drone detection radars have been a primary tactical radar used by the DoD for many years. Their effectiveness for C-UAS missions is unmatched, providing 24/7 threat detection in all weather conditions.
Our configurable radar platforms can combine with kinetic and non-kinetic effectors for a fully integrated military drone defense solution against aerial threats (e.g. Programs of Record MSHORAD and MADIS).
Key attributes of RADA USA radars for countermeasures against drones include:
- Pulse-Doppler, Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) antenna
- Software-defined architecture
- S-band operation for superior performance in all weather conditions
- Extremely high elevation coverage
- Multi-mission capability
- Easily integrated via Ethernet interface
- Compact and portable for OTM missions
- Fielded and combat-proven by the U.S. military
- Unparalleled price-performance ratio
Some UAVs can “fly under the radar.” But not our radars. RADA ensures that even the smallest threats never fly under the radar, keeping our warfighters safe and aware while completing their missions.