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Since their appearance in the late 2000s, multirotor drones have taken the world by storm. Unlike unmanned aerial systems (UAS), pursued by the military through military research, development and supply channels, these drones were originally introduced for recreational use by hobbyists and filmmakers. They make use of highly integrated, miniaturised, cutting-edge electronics designed for consumer communications systems that feature ultra-advanced capabilities, including remotely controlled and autonomous systems that perform remote surveillance, precision navigation and secure, agile, jam-resistant communications.

The use of drones has expanded dramatically in recent years. By 2020, more than 100 million are expected to be roaming our skies in civilian, commercial and scientific roles. They conduct remote monitoring, metering, sensing and security missions, infrastructure surveillance, agricultural services, fishery, forestry monitoring and control, parcel and medical supplies delivery, sporting event video coverage and more. Using open-source navigation and flight controls, amateurs and experts can hack drones to carry out missions they were never designed to do.

As they become more common so the threat level posed by drones increases: use by criminals and terrorists, for instance. So far, their lethal applications have been limited to combat zones in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but security forces around the world are certain that future lethal use will not be so limited. In fact, the uninterrupted accessibility of drones could turn critical infrastructure, such as gas and oil tanks, or chemical facilities, into mega-explosives if exploited by terrorists.

As small, slow and low-flying vehicles, multirotor drones are difficult to spot from the ground by radar, camera or the human eye and, when carrying even rudimentary weapons, their simple yet effective control enable operators to use them as loitering weapons. In Iraq they have been used by ISIS to spread havoc among Iraqi forces and were defeated only with dedicated Counter-UAS (C-UAS) equipment that was rushed to the combat zone.

One of these C-UAS systems is the Israeli DRONE GUARD, an integrated system that uses multiple sensors to detect, classify, identify and defeat drone targets. Developed by IAI Elta Systems, DRONE GUARD employs a multi-layered approach for detection, classification and targeting. For detection, the company’s ELM-2026B X-band radar and passive communications intelligence (COMINT) capabilities are used to detect and classify targets at up to five kilometers. Electro-optical (EO) sensors may also be used to detect targets that exhibit minimal or zero radar signature. Once the presence of a drone is verified, the radar directs the electro-optical system to identify it. The combination of radar and signals intelligence is part of Elta’s multilayered detection capability that maximises the system’s efficiency.

Once detected and identified, targets are neutralised by DRONE GUARD using multilayered effects. The most basic effectors are electronic emitters used to jam and disrupt the drone’s control and navigation channels, following a variety of protocols that can steer the drone away from guarded premises ,or bring it down safely using cyber takeover methods. Elta’s effector portfolio may also include electronic warfare and hard kill measures, to deal with specific environments and defeat existing and evolving threats.

DRONE GUARD’s agility and adaptability distinguishes it from numerous C-UAS systems currently available. Relying on effective, advanced software-defined radar and sensors, the system provides the range and accuracy necessary for quick reaction, tracking and cueing of EO sensors, while the integral COMINT package automatically classifies targets and reduces false alarms. Software-defined jammers enable users to tailor jamming against a specific target or swarms or employ takeover protocols that adapt to evolving circumstances. All these systems are controlled through a common interface that integrates all functions to simplify the operator’s mission.

DRONE GUARD is tailored to address a wide range of applications, from relatively simple to the most complex. The system is designed to counter present and evolving threats and endure the most challenging operating environments. Offering sophisticated, agile C-UAS capability, DRONE GUARD is well positioned to secure civilians and military forces against the growing menace of drones.

Developed by IAI Elta Systems, DRONE GUARD employs a multi-layered approach for detection, classification and targeting. (Photo: IAI)

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