From Unmanned Systems Magazine: Governments seek ways to protect against rogue or enemy UAS
Counter-small unmanned aircraft systems technology has emerged as one of the most prominent growth areas in the defense and security markets in recent years, as governments seek to not only defend critical infrastructure from violent extremist organizations and near-peer adversaries, but also from errant hobbyists.
Threats across the contemporary operating environment stretch from the employment of airborne improvised explosive devices (ABIEDs) by the likes of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to the breaching of national airspace at major airports by commercially available air frames.
Gen. Raymond Thomas, commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Command, highlighted at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in May 2017 how IS combatants had established “tactical superiority in the air” over Mosul, Iraq with more than 70 ABIEDs identified over an undisclosed reporting period.
These ABIEDs, made up of readily available, modified and weaponized variants of commercial, off-the-shelf technology, operated in lower level altitudes below stacked layers of coalition air power, making them almost undetectable to friendly forces. So severe was the threat at the time, Thomas conceded how the C-SUAS problem now represented an area of interest which his command had only just started to begin addressing.
As a short-term fix, the U.S. Department of Defense has deployed an undisclosed number of vehicle-mounted C-SUAS solutions, including the U.K.’s Anti-UAV Defence System, or AUDS.
Operating in the Middle East since 2016, the AUDS solution was mounted on Oshkosh Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTVs) with industry sources confirming to Unmanned Systems how the system had successfully intercepted “hundreds” of ABIED attacks, even forcing enemy combatants to significantly alter their standing operating procedures regarding ABIED operations.
However, as the battlespace continues to evolve yet further, governments are calling upon industry and academia to provide a next-generation capability with areas of interest including reductions in size, weight and power; detection on the move; extended detection ranges; and integrated electronic/cyber warfare functions.
One of the most exciting concept capability studies regarding C-SUAS technology includes the USSOCOM-supported ThunderDrone program which, in June 2018, completed a final test event conducted at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, featuring a final fly-off evaluation of best C-SUAS technologies.
Culminating in the award of $600,000 USD to support future developments, this rapid prototyping event (RPE) represented the third and final step in the program which started in September 2017 with an initial aim to identify offensive capabilities of SUAS in order to better understand and select suitable defensive solutions.
Featuring a total of 178 submissions from across industry and academia, RPE 1 observed 13 “operationally relevant experiments” with a total of six brought forward to RPE 2, which was conducted between Nov. 4 and April 23.
According to SOFWERX officials, RPE 2 focused on more than 400 C-SUAS technology submissions, with officials confirming approximately 30 technologies had been selected to conduct an outdoor range demonstration at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, over the course of April 2018.
Providing a program update to Unmanned Systems, SOFWERX director Tambrein Bates confirmed the final fly-off at Nellis AFB in June resulted in multiple awards to various groups of partners. Winners included a consortium featuring Battelle; Bellevue; Dedrone; Echodyne; and Squarehead Technologies.
This particular solution included Echodye’s MESA radar to identify and detect targets of interest; DeDrone’s DroneTracker software and Squarehead’s Discovair acoustic sensor to track targets; and finally, Battelle’s non-kinetic DroneDefender to neutralize targets.
Another winner in the ThunderDrone evaluation was the Expeditionary Mobile Aerial Defense Integrated System (X-MADIS), which comprises a team from Sierra Nevada Corp., Rada Electronic Industries and Ascent Vision.
Focused on the need to field a highly mobile C-SUAS solution which can be integrated on board tactical ground vehicles to support Special Operations Forces, for example, the X-MADIS won a $200,000 prize at the final RPE III event.
This particular solution, a Rada official confirmed to Unmanned Systems, includes the company’s Multi-Mission Hemispheric Radar for the detection and tracking of targets as well as capability to feature agnostic EO/IR such as Ascent Vision’s CM202U EO/IR camera and classified electronic warfare equipment to disrupt or neutralize threats.
The X-MADIS has already been integrated on a commercial off-road vehicle, allowing mobile forces such as SOF to “detect, locate, identify, track, exploit and defeat an enemy UAS on the move or while in a stationary position, protecting airports, no-fly zones and other high-value infrastructure,” Rada’s CEO, Doy Sella, explains while confirming how a “derivative” of the X-MADIS system was already deployed with an undisclosed DOD customer.
Elsewhere, the biennial Eurosatory conference, held June 11-15, 2018, in Paris, provided an opportunity for the latest C-SUAS solutions to be presented to the international market.
Elbit Systems subsidiary Elisra provided Unmanned Systems with details regarding its signals intelligence (SIGINT)-based ReDrone C-SUAS system which, according to Irmin Menscher, vice president for marketing and business development, has already been tested with U.S., Israeli and international customers, including support of the Pope’s August 2017 visit to Colombia.
The ReDrone solution relies on a passive detection radio frequency direction finding capability operating between 2.4 and 5.8 GHZ to find and fix threats, before cueing platform-agnostic radar and EO/IR payloads to track multiple SUAS. The system is capable of supporting a variety of kinetic and non-kinetic neutralization effectors, Menscher says.
With a maximum detection range of 1,500 meters — due to be extended to 3,000 meters by the end of the year — Menscher highlighted how the ReDrone had been optimized to support C-SUAS missions in congested urban areas in particular, where technologies can suffer from signals interference and line-of-sight obstruction from the high-angle environment.
“We are approaching the C-SUAS paradigm from a different approach to our competitors, with a SIGINT based system which is ideally suited to support operations in the urban environment,” Menscher says.
“ReDrone can detect and identify all types of targets as well as identify the location of drone operators,” he says, while discussing how the solution can be set up in less than 20 minutes and supported by its own mission suite of C2 software. Menscher also describes how the company is working on plans to consider the integration of “hard-kill” effectors.
Elbit Systems has conducted two test programs with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate since the start of 2017. Menscher explained how mission serials had focused on 15-20 minute duration engagements out to a range of 2 kilometers, with ReDrone proving a 98 percent probability in detection in the urban environment.
Specifically referring to ReDrone’s support of the Colombia National Police during the Pope’s visit, Menscher says the system supported a total of four operational sites over a five-day period, resulting in the detection of a total of 20 SUAS and three pilots. Operational sites were spread across a series of environments including harbors, urban parks and rural areas.
Also unveiled to the international market at Eurosatory was Aselsan’s Ihtar C-SUAS solution which, according to company officials, has already been sold and delivered to the Turkish Armed Forces.
Speaking to Unmanned Systems, Aydin Ozgu, the business development coordinator at Aselsan, explained how a total of 10 systems would be used to protect critical infrastructure from ABIEDs and other SUAS threats with capacity to be reconfigured between fixed site and mobile solutions, although this latter capability has yet to be proven.
Featuring a 360-degree surveillance radar with maximum detection range of 2 kilometers, the Ihtar features an EO/IR camera and RF jammer for the neutralization of threats.
“RF disruptors are designed to disable UAS, and Aselsan is working on alternative effectors to take control of UAS as opposed to just neutralizing them. This includes the development of special RF bands, including GPS coverage,” Ozgu says.
Furthermore, the company admits it is mulling various hard kill options, with high-power electromagnetic and laser technology being considered.
Finally, MBDA promoted its own C-SUAS solution, which has been designed for integration into larger layered air defense systems, a company spokesperson explained to Unmanned Systems in Paris.
An exhibited technology demonstrator comprised an HGH IR tracking camera; Sagem EO camera; and Consortium Engineering Activities System RF jammer; all of which were integrated with MBDA’s Licorne C2 software which is already used to support very short range air defense applications.
“Detection, identification, tracking and targeting information is shared across Licorne in a command post or vehicular configuration dependent upon customer preference,” a spokesperson confirmed before highlighting how the solution could also be networked to agnostic radar payloads, with examples including ongoing collaboration with Airbus, Elta, Rada and Thales.
According to MBDA, the RF jammer has a maximum range of 2 kilometers, with the IR camera capable of tracking targets out to a range of 1.5 kilometers. The system was tested with the French Army in a field trial in April 2018.
As described by USSOCOM’s acquisition executive, Jim Smith, at SOFIC in May, the future of the C-SUAS market appears likely to be driven by requirement to not only “detect and defeat” UAS, but more importantly, “exploit and intercept” UAS payloads and operating systems to more effectively counter enemy networks.
Additionally, the capability to support “highly mobile and man-portable” missions will remain a prerequisite, particularly for the SOF community who generally operate at reach without support from more conventional force elements.
Having said that, the wider integration of C-SUAS into larger integrated air defense networks looks set to continue gathering momentum for armed forces and government agencies.
Below: Elbit Systems subsidiary Elisra's ReDrone C-UAS system has been tested with U.S., Israeli and other international customers. Photo: Elisra