British companies lead the way in counter-drone technology
The policing of the restricted airspace over airports is becoming increasingly complex and challenging due to the proliferation of consumer drones – and we have already had several incidents of high profile near misses between consumer drones and commercial aircraft. The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is currently reporting more than 100 drone sightings within the vicinity of US airports each month.
Three UK companies have partnered to develop a new anti-drone system that is set to be trialled by the FAA. The Anti-UAV Defence System (Auds) is a counter-drone system that is designed to disrupt and neutralise unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) engaged in hostile airborne surveillance and potentially malicious activity. It has the capability to jam signals to small drones - making them unresponsive - and therefore could be used in a protective role at airports or high profile locations.
The Auds system is capable of detecting potential threats up to six miles away through electronic scanning radar. Once it identifies an incoming drone, it uses infrared and daylight cameras to track its flight path before firing a 4W directional beam at the craft to jam its radio signals – a process which takes around 15 seconds.
Several options are then available regarding what to do with the suspect UAV. These range from momentarily freezing the drone - leading the user to think the drone has malfunctioned - initiating a forced landing or locking the drone until the battery runs down.
The system combines electronic scanning radar target detection, electro-optical (EO) tracking/classification and directional RF inhibition capability over five independent RF bands (GNSS, 433MHz ISM, 915MHz ISM, 2.4GHz ISM and 5.8GHz ISM/WiFi). It features three barrels of descending sizes, which act as a set of directional radio antennas. The portion of the radio spectrum used by drones is narrow, and so a short blast of energy is enough to prevent the drone from being able to communicate with its controller. Other jamming systems used for drones have the disadvantage of disabling anything else in the area using the same radio spectrum i.e. mobile phones.
The system was designed by three UK-based companies, each contributing a key element of the system - Enterprise Control Systems (directional RF inhibitor), Blighter Surveillance Systems (the A400 Series Air Security Radar) and Chess Dynamics (Hawkeye DS and EO Video Tracker) – and these developers have carried out more than 400 hours of testing. The Auds system will be tested at several airports to be selected by the FAA.
Not only can the system disable drones mid-flight, but could also help track down irresponsible pilots by providing authorities with evidence such as video footage or radar tracks.