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Establishing a safe ecosystem to counter hostile drones

With a range of applications, drones today have wide-ranging applications from military to commercial & rescue to surveying and delivering goods. With the industry growing at a pace of over 40% per year with over 274,000 units sold commercially in 2018 globally, drone technology is constantly evolving, and its prevalence is on the rise.[1] Drone traffic in civilian airspace has increased significantly in recent years and there is always a possibility that these unmanned aircraft could be used for malicious purposes. Effective countermeasures need to be available to protect citizens and critical infrastructure from malicious drones. Subsequently, the importance of countries to formulate a counter-drone framework to tactfully combat the up and coming drones is pivotal.

India has put in place detailed regulations for drone operations. Currently, while nano drones (weighing less than 250 gm and flying up to 50 ft) are unregulated, the rest of the four categories — micro, small, medium and large — need to comply with a detailed set of rules and regulations.[2]

Counter measures are required to police rogue drones. Counter-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems (C-UAS) can create a safe “bubble” around event venues and civilian installations such as airports or stadiums. Working with civil, military, and government bodies, Thales is introducing new ways to monitor and control drones, and to make UAV Traffic Management (UTM) a priority for airspace security.

Thales provides solutions allowing civil and military aviation authorities to detect - even without data transmission - and verify a drone’s registration number, identify its pilot, and confirm its flight authorisation, all in a few seconds.

Some of the prominent counter drone technologies Thales is working on includes Holographic[3] radars for detection, Electro-optical technology, Laser-directed energy solutions, Radio-frequency (RF) jamming devices, EagleSHIELD, a multi-sensor solution that detects, identifies, classifies and neutralizes rogue drones flying at low altitude at ranges of up to 7 km and multiple other military solutions operating for some countries (not India) to counter drones among others.

“Thales has long been at the nexus of military and civilian avionics and airspace protection and is thus ideally placed to counter the threats faced by civilian facilities and events from hostile drones,” Michel Dechanet, Product Line Manager for C-UAS systems, Thales.

To cope with unexpected or non-registered drones, detection and classification are the first steps before an engaging a graduated response. For the drones that are not allowed, there exists a complete set of graduated neutralization which can be deployed. This ranges from hijacking, jamming, drone interception, or even shooting down with high-energy weapons or ultimately air defence systems.

Hijacking a drone by taking control of its guidance system is the first option. This is already compliant with regulations and does not affect other electronic equipment, so it suitable for sensitive areas such as airports and other civilian installations. This can be done from mobile vehicles at a safe distance and is efficient against drones that are not cyber protected.

The other regulation-compliant option is jamming - saturating specific frequency bands and areas with radio waves thereby rendering drones inoperable. This also works for cyber-protected military drones when their frequency bands can be detected. This solution is efficient for datalink dependent drones.

The third option is interception with defensive drones, when necessary in swarms, deploying nets or using electromagnetic waves on their targets. Although this is still in development and will require updated regulations, it promises to be a safe and affordable alternative, since defensive drones can be extensively reused.

When defensive measures fail and when drones’ threats are considered as highly critical, taking down drones becomes the only option. The preferred method, now under development, will be to use drone-based high-power radio signals to disable or burn out the embedded electronics of hostile drones to make them crash, far from their targets. As a final, more intrusive, option authorities can call in the military to shoot down drones with light missiles or with air defence guns firing “air burst” munitions.

“In any case, to make all this come together we need real-time, global information on drone movements that Thales can provide. Combining our expertise in connectivity, big data, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence, all gathered in, we can allow society to benefit from commercial drones, while providing solution to keep sky safe, limiting the threats from hostile drones,” emphasized Michel Dechanet.

With a digital revolution underway in all the markets that Thales serves, the company is investing heavily in the four technological pillars of connectivity/Internet of Things, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity. Thales aims to be a trusted partner for its customers, helping them in their digital transformation, and using its capacity for innovation to offer new ways of working in new ecosystems.

In all, advancement of drone technologies is a continuing process and Thales is working at the very forefront in their development to bring out the best of innovation and meet the exacting standards of safety and trust.

Pawandeep KAUR, Thales, Communications in India
+91 120 40 20 555