Dynamic drone threat calls for next-gen counter-UAS technologyStory
October 06, 2023
More than 18 months ago, Russia invaded Ukraine, but Ukraine has managed to stave off many of Russia’s attacks. Among other tactics, one strategy Ukraine has used is to launch an all-out small commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) uncrewed aerial system (UAS) or drone counteroffensive that has played a pivotal role in its survival. The success of COTS drones in battle highlights a significant possible physical challenge for which U.S. military and homeland security officials should plan now. Those plans should include one of the most precise ways to take out rogue drones, namely cyber radio frequency (RF) takeover technology. That technology just got a little better.
COTS drones in battle not new
Historically, the might of air power remained reserved for nation-states that could afford standing professional militaries. In the 1990s, the weaponized Predator and other large drones made their battlefield debut. A lethal combination of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and kinetic strike capabilities, these aircraft soon became a must-have asset for military forces. The state-level monopoly on drones was short-lived. The low cost, widespread availability and flexibility of small COTS drones democratized air power.
Inexpensive COTS drones provide a number of advantages. They can fly over barriers, scout out the location of enemy assets and operations and, with precision, remotely deliver lethal and nonlethal payloads. This can wreak havoc on mission critical capabilities and opposition forces.
Over the past several years, global militant groups have routinely employed small COTS drones as lookouts and attack vectors. One of many such examples: In 2019, a weaponized small drone killed six Yemeni military officers when it exploded over them.
Both Russian and Ukrainian forces in the current conflict have copied some of these same tactics and techniques. Perhaps unique to this conflict, combatants have utilized First Person View (FPV) hobby drones and modified them to increase their range and capacity. The world has also witnessed the increased use of loitering munition-type drones, attritable kamikaze drones, and airborne improvised explosive devices (IED).
According to James Poss (Maj. Gen., U.S. Air Force, Retired), because these COTS drones have proven so effective, they have essentially created a new way of waging warfare. He said, “If small COTS drones can have such an impact on the battlefield, imagine the impact terrorists could have in our homeland.” The implications, across the board, will likely be profound.
Implications of possible UAS use
Adapted commercial and hobby drones have made a difference in the Russia-Ukraine conflict in unprecedented ways. Poss asserts, “In the U.S., we spend a lot of time preparing for the next air attack to come across the hemisphere. But the next attack may come across the parking lot.” Poss believes this “frightening prospect” reinforces the need for remote identification, safe and nondisruptive counterdrone technology, and enhanced counterdrone authorities in the United States.
Gen. Poss is not the only concerned military expert. Northrop Grumman’s Kent Savre (Maj. Gen., U.S. Army, Retired), director for the company’s precision weapons operating unit, agrees with him. “The same types of commercial drones helping Ukraine can provide an asymmetric advantage to those who would do us harm right here in the homeland.”
Bad actors keep a watchful eye on effective tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and adapt them to their own needs. According to international security and counterterrorism professional Robert J. Bunker, the current director of research and analysis and a managing partner of C/O Futures, “ ... more and more homeland security professionals and scholars see future weaponized drone attacks taking place domestically as an inevitable ‘no-brainer’ given the rapid expansion in overseas use.”
Center for Naval Analyses defense analyst Samuel Bendett also states that to counter these drone threats, “the trend in Ukraine at least is towards making these systems portable, from handheld to light truck/car-transportable systems that can be moved and deployed quickly.” The same approach applies in the domestic setting.
End-to-end detection and mitigation
Counterdrone technology, whether for the military, law enforcement, homeland security, or critical infrastructure professionals, needs to be able to adapt in the field as swiftly as the inbound bogeys (a term for unidentified aircraft or missiles).
D-Fend Solutions adapted its leading edge EnforceAir RF cyber-based counterdrone takeover system to meet these needs in its upgraded EnforceAir 2 (EA2). The new unit, with enhanced cyberdetection and takeover mitigation capabilities, deploys as smaller and more portable, with longer range and increased power. It comes in all the same modalities as the original EnforceAir kits (tactical, military and covert vehicle, stationary and semi-stationary pole mount, man-portable, and standalone core unit), and can be fully integrated with D-Fend Solutions’ Multi-Sensor Command & Control system (MSC2), which enables users to manage multiple different EnforceAir deployment kits simultaneously and remotely from a single server, but with decreased size, weight, and power (SWaP).
EA2 now includes a compact backpack deployment version, ideal for covert operations or rapidly deployable counterdrone capabilities on the go. The EA2 backpack deployment option provides full counterdrone functionality, with multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) 360-degree omnidirectional antennas covertly concealed in its weather-resistant composite material fabric. Rugged, slim, and lightweight, weighing a little over 60 pounds fully packed (with the software-defined radio [SDR], cables, management table, and power supply), EA2’s design accommodates a range of tactical and operational scenarios, conditions, and terrains.
Backpack aside, the EA2 core unit itself can operate in extreme temperatures from -30⁰ C (-22⁰ F) to +50 ⁰C (122⁰ F). Regardless of configuration, EA2 comes with quick-setup locking and release mechanisms that enable rapid conversions during changing or challenging operational situations. The batteries provide 2.5 hours of continuous coverage and can be easily hot-swapped in the field. Such coverage is long-range and legally compliant, typically detecting threats as far away as 4.5 km (2.7 miles), with mitigation range typically from 1.2 km (.75 mile) to 4 km (2.5 miles). Instances of use on much longer ranges have been observed. The unit meets standards including MIL-STD-810H (environmental ruggedness), MIL-STD-461 (electromagnetic specification), and IP66 (water/dust ingress protection) and is intended to handle real-time edge processing.
All of these capabilities are aimed at maximizing combat and security effectiveness. As the threat escalates and proliferates into more varied environments and scenarios, EnforceAir2 now brings unprecedented power, flexibility, and portability to security officials to confront and overcome the growing risks and challenging dangers.
To learn more about EA2, visit https://d-fendsolutions.com/enforceair2-next-gen-c-uas/.
Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is the CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC.