Not long ago, UAVs, or “drones” as they’re commonly and annoyingly called, were pretty much limited to the military. Now they’re everywhere. Send $39.99 to a Chinese website and, a couple of weeks later, you’ll have a sophisticated mini quadcopter that can be controlled by your iPhone and will send high-resolution, real-time imagery back to the phone’s screen. Lots of fun, but the potential for misuse is obvious; it’s a perfect tool for scouting a potential target or coordinating an attack. It’s not like finding a bigger model, capable of carrying an explosive charge, is exactly difficult either.
Unfortunately, up to now there hasn’t been any really good way of dealing with them that doesn’t involve shooting them down. That isn’t ideal, because there’s a serious risk of bits falling on people, so drones have been able to operate almost unchecked. That might be changing though; Ohio-based research group Battelle say they have a compact system that can soft-kill most drones from up to 400 meters away and bring them down harmlessly.
Battelle’s DroneDefender is a rifle-sized shoulder weapon that weighs about 15 pounds, depending on what accessories you fit to it. You can add another 10 pounds for the backpack that houses the power supply, but it’s still a compact and portable system. It works by using a directed energy beam to cut the UAV’s data links, taking it out of its operator’s control.
This isn’t as simple a process as it used to be. Modern UAVs aren’t like old-style radio-controlled aircraft, which could always be relied on to immediately crash if the control signals stopped. The typical mid-priced drone is a lot less hands-on and can take care of itself pretty well. If it stops getting steering commands, it might go into auto-hover mode and wait until the operator is back in control. Alternatively, it might automatically return to its launch point using GPS.
The DroneDefender is designed to cover as many bases as possible. The system has two separate triggers. The first disrupts the link between the UAV and control unit, so the operator can’t tell it to bug out – or carry out any more destructive commands. The second trigger jams its GPS antenna, if it has one; that means it can’t return to the launch point because it doesn’t know its own position any more.
Once the DroneDefender has cut the intruder off from ground or satellite-based control, it issues its own commands – bringing the target safely to the ground in a controlled descent. That serves a couple of purposes: Firstly there’s no risk of an out of control machine – or parts of a destroyed one – injuring people or damaging property. Secondly, the operator can’t retrieve any imagery the drone has collected – or any weaponry it was carrying. The drone is also available for forensics to examine.
Based on what’s been released – and there’s no doubt that isn’t everything – DroneDefender isn’t a silver bullet. It won’t be effective against an inertially guided drone that flies a pre-programmed route and doesn’t rely on external signals. It might be possible to build or program a drone that can protect itself against jamming – perhaps by immediately turning and flying a reciprocal course until the signal from its control unit comes back. But it should be a big help, even so. Most affordable drones on the market are guided by radio or even IR signals, and DroneDefender can deal with those. It might not be able to stop 100% of the threats, but stopping 90% is still worth doing. The issue of what to do about easily available, and often highly capable, UAVs has been bothering people for a while. Now it looks like there’s a solution.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.