A new anti-drone kit billed as the Swiss Army Knife of drone defenses just debuted from French company CERBAIR. The drone detection and mitigation tool -- the business end of which is a hip-fired electromagnetic rifle -- is emblematic of a growing urgency to develop security tools for guarding against rogue drone attacks.
The prevalence and growing sophistication of drones has created a serious obstacle for law enforcement. Commercially available drones can be used to threaten government officials and carry out attacks during public gatherings and events. A joint multi-agency threat assessment issued prior to then-incoming President Biden's inauguration listed drones as a potential threat. Violent non-state actors have already been known to use drones in combat.
"Although these drones are about the size of a watermelon and may have a range of only a few miles, they still pose a risk," writes Thomas Braun in his paper Miniature Menace in the journal Wild Blue Yonder. "In the hands of a [violent non-state actor], these small, inexpensive consumer drones are modified into "killer bees" capable of creating significant damage and terrorizing civilian and military populations."
The terrorist organization ISIL established a drone division, says Braun, citing one example, and cartel groups in Central and South America have deployed drone technology for various purposes. With a growing recognition of the threat of white supremacy and right wing militias around the world, security forces are on guard against drone attacks--a militarized right wing group in the Ukraine has stockpiled drones and other weapons, for example.
All of which points to the need for effective drone countermeasures. Not surprisingly, a number of technologies for detecting, identifying, tracking, and disabling drones have come to market in the past few years. Radio frequency analyzers effectively detect radio waves sent between drones and their controllers and some units with multiple dispersed antennas can triangulate signal origin location. Acoustic sensors, such as those from Squarehead Technologies, work well in short-range scenarios where there isn't a lot of background noise, and optical sensors, including infrared and thermal sensors, as well as visual spectrum cameras, are commonly deployed to track drones. In line with other aircraft detection, radar is also frequently used to track drones.
Things start to get exotic when it comes to disabling drones. Devices include RF jammers to disrupt the signal between the drone and the controller, GPS spoofers to confuse a drone about its location, net guns, lasers, and even birds trained to disable drones in flight.
The CERBAIR kit includes a backpack and vest with a detection module, a command and control tablet and an electromagnetic effector. According to the company, drone detection is processed by omnidirectional analysis of radio frequency spectrum. Once the alert has been given (both visual and audio), the azimuthal location of the rogue drone and its pilot are tracked using a directional antenna.
Because the kit tracks a rogue drone's location, the electromagnetic gun can be used beyond line of sight.
Of course, the arms race is bound to work both ways. As more police and security forces utilize drones for surveillance, the prevalence of anti-drone technology may become an increasing liability. For the time being, CERBAIR's kit is being used, among others, by special forces that protect heads of state.