Counter Drone Technologies

NewsBharati    10-Jul-2021   
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Counter Drone Technologies is the most debated subject in the aftermath of Jammu Drone Terror Strike in India. They belong to a different category in India from “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UACVs”) and Underwater Unmanned Sea Vehicles (UUSVs) that are large in size with different capabilities and roles. In Indian Armed Forces, they have been grouped under the acronym “Remotely Piloted Vehicles” (RPAS).

None should rule out the possibility of Sci-fi series - futuristic concepts such as space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, extraterrestrial life and future wars – advancing future trends in Hybrid Wars. A comprehensive study by a “Cabinet committee” ordered by the Cabinet Committee of Security is vital. Law banning import of Drones may be needed. Only licensed personnel are authorized to own them.

Distinct prospect of “Swarms of Drones” like “Stinging Bees” destroying targets and melting away rapidly is real. Drones are small enough to be difficult to detect and defeat. Searching the sky for a mini drone makes finding a needle in a haystack seems simple. And, they can perform both offensive and defensive roles in full spectrum operations including asymmetric warfare. A lone-wolf terrorist (from sleeper cell) can launch a devastating strike at strategic assets anywhere in India.

Recognize all alike that countering the drone threat requires diverse solutions. They can fly feet from the ground, avoiding radar, have a very small cross-section, are relatively quiet and almost impossible to spot with the eye when they’re above 300 feet or so. And now we’re seeing autonomous drones that don’t emit RF signals, which have preprogrammed routes, either using GPS or machine vision. From detection to mitigation might only be five seconds. You need multiple detectors because drones are very hard to spot. No one solution is 100 percent bulletproof.

Neutralizing their sensors and guidance systems and destruction mid-air with pin-point accuracy remains a challenge with present indigenous counter technologies. Scientists, technologists and military commanders are looking for new and specialized technologies to detect, track and respond to the threat to include carrying out a complex counter-attack with lasers, radio waves, small drones and missiles.

Imperative it is, therefore, to expeditiously identify and prioritize strategic assets and to determine the counter Drone force levels. Add to it, requirements of services of armed/security forces.

For the sake of layman let me highlight that the military technology cycle is based on a continuum: new weapons-new tactics/doctrines-new organizations. As military technologies develop new combat systems, counter technologies also emerge. No “fool-proof or fail-safe” technologies are available today.

However, one can take a cue from the Cyberspace structures – units, formations and commands - that have been adopted by various nations to conduct to operate resilient, reliable information and communication networks, counter cyberspace threats, and assure access to cyberspace. Similarly, an integrated structure of the proposed organization designed to identify and formulate tactics/doctrines – both offensive and defensive – and their employment in battles in all domains of warfare is vital.

Ipso facto, a wide range of Drones from cheap but capable quadcopters to sophisticated combat drones are available heralding the “Fifth Generation of Warfare”. They are capable of performing wide variety of combat roles with nap-of-earth capability to avoid detection. Swarms of drones can operate and strike targets with great accuracy that makes land based and even air based combat weapons and command and control systems highly vulnerable. Naturally, armed forces have to adapt to new tactics/doctrines for offensive and defensive operations and organizations.

Where does India stand today in the Drone/UAS technologies – defensive and offensive? DRDO Chief, G Satheesh Reddy, recently claimed that the counter-drone technology has been indigenously developed that could provide the armed forces with the capability to swiftly detect, intercept and destroy small drones. The anti-drone system would give the military both “soft kill” and “hard kill” options. The first refers to jamming the hostile drone, while the second involves a laser-based kill system.

The counter drone system consists of a radar system that offers 360-degree coverage with detection of micro drones when they are 4km away, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors for detection of micro drones up to 2 km and a radio frequency (RF) detector to detect RF communication up to 3 km. The RF/Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) jammer can detect the frequency being used by the controller and jam signals from a distance of 3 km. Once confirmed by RF detection and verified by EO/IR sensor, the system is ready to jam RF/GNSS signals or use laser weapon as per standard operating procedures. The laser-based hard kill system can neutralize micro drones at distances between 150 m to 1 km. The system is integrated through a command post.

DRDO has showcased its counter-drone technology to different security agencies at the Hindon air force station in January 2020 and at the National Security Guard campus in Manesar in August 2020 and January 2021. But, its mass scale production and deployment is yet to fructify. Indian Air Force has placed an order to acquire 10 counter drone systems -more window dressing.

Let me briefly highlight that “T-Age” sunrise military technologies developments based on computer based combat systems, Artificial Intelligence and Cyberspace are a reality. Those armies who adapt sunrise technologies will naturally have a superior edge in the conduct of battles in all domains.

In the past, acronyms like C2 (Command and Control) and C3I (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence) and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) were common. Now, it is the C5ISR (command, control, computers, communications, cyber-defense (C5), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and C6ISR (command, control, communications, computers, cyber-defense, combat systems (C6), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).” Essentially, the difference between C4ISR, C5ISR, and C6ISR is the addition of facilities, equipment, personnel, and procedures related to computers, cyber-defense, and combat systems, to C2 architecture.

To appreciate future portends in warfare, it is vital to understand in broad outline the transformational shifts in the nature and character of warfare post-1648 Peace of Westphalia under the rubric of “Four Generations of Warfare (GW). Gen 1 (1648-1860) was based on “Trinitarian Doctrine - States vs. States, Armies vs. Armies, People Left Out of Battles and Massed Manpower facing against each other with muskets, horsed cavalry, low caliber guns and steam ships replacing sail ships. Gen 2 (1860-1918) was based on complete mobilization of nation; massed firepower with rifles and machine guns, big caliber guns, primitive tanks; and aircraft. Gen 3 (Post WW 1 & WW 2) was based on maneuver warfare on land, air and sea domains with speed and surprise and onset of nuclear warfare with atomic bombs. Gen 4 (Cold War and aftermath) experienced a most radical shift with State loosing monopoly over war based on asymmetric warfare (Super Insurgency) - political, economic, social, military to convince an opponent’s decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly.

Now, shifts to Gen 5 warfare is quite evident - Hybrid warfare covering the full spectrum of all domains. Gen 1 Trinitarian Doctrine is out. Non-State actors are targeting innocent civilians.

What equipments are on the anvil includes: Drone monitoring; Drone counter measures; and C6ISR software. Drone monitoring equipment can be passive (simply looking or listening) or active (sending a signal out and analyzing what comes back) and can perform several functions, including: Detection; Classification or Identification; Locating and Tracking; and Alerting. There are four main types of drone monitoring equipment: Radio Frequency (RF) Analyzers; Acoustic Sensors (Microphones); Optical Sensors (Cameras); and Radar.

Drone Countermeasures Equipment can be grouped as either: Physically destroying the drone; Neutralizing the drone; or Taking control of the drone: RF Jammers; GPS Spoofers; High Power Microwave (HPM) Devices; and Nets & Net Guns; High-Energy Lasers; and Integrating All Together.

C6ISR software can make or break your counter-drone system. All the data from those different sensors and technologies need to be collected, processed and displayed in a user-friendly way that makes sense and is actionable. Good examples of counter-drone systems are ESG’s Taranis, Operational Solutions’ FACE, Aselsan (TR), TRD (SG), IGP (NL), and Drone Detect Sys (CH).

USA has been developing counter-Drone technologies - sensors and effectors, networked into a command-and-control system covering the complete counter-UAS mission. USA will soon be ready to deploy directed energy applications in the battlefield. Rayethon, USA, is developing counter-UAS tech to defend against agile, unmanned threats and larger drone swarms:

· The Phaser™ high-power microwave system uses directed energy to down drones—single ones or swarms—at the speed of light. Operators focus a wide, arcing energy beam on drones that sends out a short, high power burst of electromagnetic energy, destroying their electronics and dropping them simultaneously from the sky.

· The Stinger® missile is a lightweight, self-contained air defense system that can be rapidly deployed by ground troops to destroy UAVs with proximity fuzes. Combat proven in four major conflicts, the weapon has more than 270 fixed- and rotary-wing intercepts to its credit. It's deployed in 19 nations and with all four U.S. military services.

· A Raytheon Technologies-built, mobile, high-energy laser system. Airmen took control of both the microwave and laser systems after just one day's training. They used an Xbox-style controller to direct the laser and a joystick to operate the high-power microwave in real-world scenarios at the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

· Ku-band Radio Frequency System, a 360-degree radar that senses incoming drones, rockets, artillery and mortars, that can cue defensive weapons, and it can be set up within 30 minutes, either in a fixed location or on a vehicle;

· Multi-mission KuRFS radar sensing technique called active electronically scanned array, which uses many small antennas, rather than a single powerful antenna, to allow for better control of the beam that operates in the Ku-band of the electromagnetic spectrum, which allows for higher-resolution imaging and works with multiple weapons systems including the land-based Phalanx Weapon System, 50-caliber guns and 30 mm cannons. The radar also supports the High Energy Laser and the Coyote weapon system; and the precision tracking;

· AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel™ a three-dimensional radar that alerts front-line air-defense weapons whenever it sees hostile planes, helicopters, drones or missiles providing the range, bearing and elevation of the objects it is tracking; Global Patriot™ Solutions is a missile defense system consisting of radars, command-and-control technology and multiple types of interceptors, all working together to detect, identify and defeat tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones, advanced aircraft and other threats..

· Sensors/Effectors - The most capable in its class, the Coyote® unmanned aircraft system is small, expendable and tube-launched. It can be deployed from the ground, air or a ship. The Coyote UAS can be flown individually or netted together in swarms, and it is adaptable for a variety of missions including surveillance, electronic warfare and strike. The system will operate up to one hour and is designed for interchangeable payloads. Equipped with an advanced seeker and warhead, the Coyote-enabled system can successfully identify and eliminate threat UAVs.

Raytheon Technologies is improving the speed of the AI, since some drones fly as fast as 200 mph and can be sent in swarms or waves. The counter-UAS technology called Windshear promises to help solve the problem. Countermeasures to defeat drones include RF jamming or spoofing and cyber effects, which could allow Windshear operators to take control of the enemy drone, land it or send it home. It’s a command, control and communications system that allows for rapid, plug-and-play use of multiple sensors and both kinetic and non-kinetic effects, helping operators rapidly deploy the right response at the right time. Windshear can track drones with radio frequencies, radar, acoustic sensors, electro-optical and infrared cameras, or human ground spotters. Using artificial intelligence, it helps the operator determine whether the drone is friend or foe, white-listing friendly drones.

Raytheon Technologies has tested several detectors, including its own Skyler low-power radar, the RF-based MESMER and the multi-detecting Black Sage UASX. Those last two can be used to defeat the drones as well as find and track them. MESMER, for example, manipulates radio frequencies to control attacking drones and is effective when non-kinetic effects are called for. Black Sage UASX is a system that combines sensors, cameras, effectors and software.

Next, what should, therefore, be the organizational structure for the Drones/UASs heralding Gen 5 war fighting in all domains? Conceptually, holistic and integrated (Top-Down Approach) approach is most vital that must include not only the three services of armed forces but also partnerships with private industry. Naturally, they must function under the framework of Integrated Air Defense Command (Cyber Command when created) with all the three services components forming part of such a structure.

At the same time, there is an urgent need to create drone units wherewithal for both offensive and defensive operations (where considered vital – Bottom Approach) in all domains – to conduct “full spectrum drone operations”. Since they are likely to be specialized units, initially such units may be placed under command of Air Defense units and formations to ensure exploitation of C6ISR structure.

Let me reiterate that the “Drone” and UASs systems are likely to make revolutionary changes in tactics/doctrines. A comprehensive study be ordered forthwith to consider various options available to design the new structures at the highest level and select the most appropriate organization to conduct operations at all places, at all times and in all environments – both in peace and war.

In sum, what is needed is for India’s scientists/technologists to abandon their laid-back approach to design and develop Drone and UASs for offensive and defensive roles to provide enabling where withal. Integration through partnerships with private industry is inevitable and imperative. Meanwhile, the organizational structure for their management must be created without any delay. Even “Field Trails” be carried out based on units and formations to test and validate new tactics and doctrines.