“There is no technological silver bullet. Really, a multimodal approach is what’s going to have to eventually be the answer.”
Recent real-world tests demonstrated that the best defense against a rogue drone depends a lot on the drone, what you’re trying to defend, and where it is situated.
The MITRE C-UAS Challenge asked innovators from around the world to identify solutions that could: 1) detect small drones (under 5 lbs.) during flight and determine which ones were threats based on a geographic location and flight trajectory, and 2) interdict small UAS that were perceived as threats by forcing them to be recovered intact in a safe area.
The live flight evaluation took place August 10-18 at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. The MITRE Challenge Team chose the finalists from among 42 applicants, representing eight countries. One purpose of the challenge was to evaluate a range of technology and test the different solutions against the same scenarios.
Eight finalists competed in one or more of three categories: The winners are:
- Best Detection and Determination System and Best End-to-End System: DroneRANGER, Van Cleve and Associates, Alexandria, VA (awarded a total of $80,000).
- Best Interdiction System, SkyWall 100, Open Works Engineering, Riding Mill, England (awarded $20,000).
The SkyWall 100 system [see the video at top of this post] consists of a compressed air powered launcher and an intelligent projectile. The launcher is equipped with a SmartScope that uses computerized targeting while the projectile is programmed to deploy a net at precisely the right time to entangle a drone. Immediately after the net is deployed, a parachute is released that controls the descent of the captured drone.
In contrast, DroneRANGER’s key components are a 360° scanning radar and a positioning system on which images (visual and thermal) and radio frequency (RF) jammers are integrated. The radar detects the drones and the RF jammers block radio frequencies, thus neutralizing the drones.
The contest, announced in 2015, drew submissions from companies and universities hoping their inventions would shine in a demonstration attended by dozens of federal agency representatives.
Michael Balazs, a MITRE technology integration specialist said the demonstrations offered further evidence that the approach to defending against rogue drones will vary depending in part on the type of operator involved.
An “uninformed or unsophisticated actor,” such as a wayward hobbyist, is a very different opponent than a malicious and sophisticated evil-doer, who can and likely will use encryption or other means to defeat attempts to electronically take control of the offending drone. And while jamming the control signals is relatively easy, Balazs said, triggering the built-in fail-safe found in virtually all off-the-shelf systems of a certain size and sophistication (including all of the industry leaders) can have unpredictable consequences, since users can program different responses to a loss of control telemetry.
Perhaps more important than any specific technology are the 150 government agency representatives who showed up in Quantico. This is a sure indicator of the growing interest in stopping drones in a variety of environments.
Congrats to the winners. It is interesting to see that a net solution emerged as the winner – this is a popular idea that keeps coming up. For the full James Bond treatment see the Skywall marketing video. But you have to wonder how effective it will be against an agile dedicated evil-doer who has no sense of fair play and even less interest in getting caught.
Another good overview is in Breaking Defense, Death To (Tiny) Drones.