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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have proliferated in recent years, sparking an increased emergence of systems designed to counter them. A number of companies have launched or are developing solutions that use electronic warfare (EW) or cyber techniques to disable and disrupt this new menace.

The threat to militaries from UAVs has rapidly expanded, with small, commercially available systems capable of carrying out surveillance or even carrying explosive payloads. UAVs have moved from the low-threat hobbyist arena 'to ISR missions--providing enemies with situational awareness of friendly forces--to weaponised tactics such as kamikaze (attacks) and weapon delivery', said Dave Bessey, assistant vice-president, counter-unmanned aerial systems (UAS) at SRC, the manufacturer of the Silent Archer counter-UAV system.

Silent Archer is designed to detect, track, classify, identify, and disrupt hostile UAVs. The system's operations can be divided into three broad areas, according to the company. The first is 'detect'. Silent Archer uses an air surveillance radar, EW and direction-finding systems to scan the airspace for low, slow and small (LSS) airborne targets, collecting information on areas like radio frequency (RF) signatures, 3-D location, and so on.

'Together, these technologies accurately detect, track and identify hostile UAVs for making effective decisions regarding threats,' the company states.

The second area of focus is 'decide', for which the system utilises radar signature data and electronic surveillance information to allow for the positive identification of UAV targets. This can be enhanced through the use of an electrooptical/infrared (EO/IR) camera. When visual identification is made, the operator can confidently decide on what actions to take against the threat, if any.

Finally, there is 'defeat', which uses the EW system in a number of different ways: for example, jamming the communication links of the unmanned system, which makes it return to its base or carry out an emergency landing.

SRC has designed the system to be configured for use in different roles, including vehicle-mounted expeditionary deployment, fixed-site installation, 'or flyaway kit packaging for quick-in, quick-out missions'. The company is also looking to integrate new technologies to further increase the system's capabilities.

SRC supplies its counter-UAV technology to the US Army and Air Force (USAF), and has seen rising demand, Bessey added. Mr. Bassey said Silent Archer is aimed mainly at defeating smaller UAVs (Classes 1-3), "since they are the most challenging due to their small size, low altitude, slow speed and staggered flight patterns".

Mr. Bassey also pointed to the danger of 'swarm' attacks featuring numerous UAVs, saying that Silent Archer's approach also worked in this area, "since jamming of the RF band can defeat multiple targets simultaneously".

Doug Booth, director of strategy & business development, cyber solutions at Lockheed Martin--manufacturer of the Icarus counter-UAV system--also highlighted the danger of swarm attacks. While just one small, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS), Class 1 drone is a threat, capable of carrying 5lb (2.2kg) of explosives, the prospect of large numbers of similarly equipped systems increases the danger exponentially.

"When you think about swarming drones all carrying sib of payload, that's an even more significant threat, and it's something that you have to be able to defeat,' he said.

Icarus has been upgraded through the development process to better deal with swarm attacks, Booth added. Whereas earlier versions were capable of engaging an individual UAV every half a second, "now we have the ability to engage multiple devices at one time". This 'swarm solution' has been field trialled with customers this year, Mr. Booth added.

Icarus is designed to identify and intercept UAVs, allowing operators to either disable or take control of a hostile system. It is based on three elements, he explained. First, a multi-spectral front end detects the threat. The system then utilises Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics to determine that the potential threat is in fact a UAV, rather than a bird, for example.

This 'characterisation' element is a crucial aspect of counter-UAV technology, telling the operator exactly what the threat is and enabling him or her to decide on the appropriate response. Icarus has been programmed to recognise more than 40 commercially available UAVs, he said.

"By characterising them based on an image, an RF signature, or an acoustics signature, w e can determine in some cases exactly what type of drone it is," he explained.

If the operator decides the UAV does represent a threat, Icarus provides them with a number of tools with which they can respond. One of these involves the use of cyber electromagnetic activity to disable the onboard camera or take control of the system. Alternatively, the user can deploy EW techniques to jam the UAV's command and control (C2) link.

Lockheed Martin is working with a number of customers now on further enhancing Icarus, including US military clients, Booth revealed adding that the company has focused on increasing the detection range of the system over the course of 2017.

"On an earlier test Icarus was good out to about half a kilometre,' he explained. 'We've been able to double that range in 2017, so we're out beyond a kilometre for our detection and for our defeat capability.'

While working on the range testing, the company found the system was picking up false alarms, he said: "If people were walking around or vehicles were being driving, or if there was a windsock out there, these were causing alarms".

The company has been able to decrease many of these false alarms, Booth said, through further enhancing the characterisation capabilities of Icarus. "When you're talking about force protection you don't want the device giving false alarms all the time because then it becomes a nuisance, not a support tool," he said.

In addition, Lockheed Martin has focused on further ruggedising the system, so that operators can use it in a variety of environments without being concerned about its durability. "We got feedback from our customers in a lot of the field trials that they want to be able to set it up and forget about it, they just have it sit there and operate it for much of the time," Mr. Booth said. "So we worked on heavy duty ruggedisation of the product."

Finally, Lockheed Martin has focused on miniaturising the system, creating a version that can be carried in a backpack. This system has much of the same capabilities as the larger version. "The miniaturisation enables you to be able to have some of the same detect and defeat capabilities on an individual walking around, or driving in a truck or car,' he stated.

Mark Radford, chief executive officer of Blighter Surveillance Systems, which is part of the team that manufactures the Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS), said speed of deployment and reducing size, weight and power (SWAP) are big issues for some customers.

"Our customers want a fully integrated counter-drone system that is quick and easy to deploy," he told Armada International. "That's why we have introduced a new, ruggedised version of AUDS that can be deployed on military trucks or commercial surveillance vehicles to provide rapid 'on-the-pause' protection for a temporary base, mobile force or convoy under attack from drones."

AUDS comprises three elements, each made by a different, UK-based company. First, the Blighter A400 series air security radar is used to detect small UAVs. Second, the Chess Dynamics Hawkeye Deployable System and EO Video Tracker are used to track and classify the potential threat. And finally, the smart RF inhibitor made by Enterprise Control Systems can be used to selectively interfere with C2 channels on the UAV, to disrupt its mission.

The company displayed a field mast version of the system at the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) show in London in mid-September. AUDS is also available in several other configurations, including the new version for vehicle deployment.

"We made it more robust to withstand the shock and vibration experienced in a vehicle," Mr. Radford said, adding that this configuration is proving popular on the export market.

The AUDS team has also enhanced the counter-swarm capability with the radar system already able to detect hundreds of targets simultaneously. The team has developed new technology to more effectively defeat multi-drone swarm attacks, but could not provide further details at this stage.

Decreasing the false alarm rate is a key concern, said Robert Barthel, product manager for Xpeller, a counter-UAV system manufactured by Hensoldt. "That's why you need advanced algorithms to carry out classification based on the data coming from the sensors," he said. "You can carry out classification on the radar data, to differentiate a bird from a UAV, or you could do optical classification on top of the videofeed to achieve the same thing."

Effective classification stems from automation, he said, in which "the system decides whether an airborne object is an actual threat that must be countered, or if it's just a bird or even a friendly drone."

This level of automation is beneficial for customers in terms of life-cycle costs, Mr. Barthel explained. "If the level of automation is too low, they need specialised operators," he said. 'If there is a high level of false alarms, this will result in a low level of trust in the system. That's why you need modern technologies like machine learning or deep learning to support decision making."

Xpeller uses a multi-spectral approach to detect and identify drones, and then utilises a UAV interceptor to interrupt the link between the UAV and its pilot or its navigation. The system has a range of target markets, including military users, and has seen increasing interest in recent years, with the majority of this is outside Europe, he added.

The company has carried out a number of demonstrations with customers from which "we are deriving insights into customer requirements and scenarios which we in turn use for further development'.

However, while the counter-UAV solutions are developing all the time, so are the UAVs themselves, admitted Booth. "Adversaries and users of drones who are trying to cause damage have done reconnaissance against our counter-UAV platforms," he said adding that they were building their own countermeasures. They are deploying technology to lower the RF signature of their systems "which makes it harder for our devices to pick up the threat coming in". In addition, they are investing not only in new technologies, but in improving their flying abilities, he said: "That means they're able to fly these devices in ways that can manoeuvre around the sensors."

According to Mr. Booth, these are two areas of particular focus for Lockheed Martin as it continues developing Icarus. They will feature in field trials with customers in late 2017 and early 2018.

Bessey said that in the future, counter-UAV systems will be able to do more with less. They will need to be capable of carrying out several missions, he said. "Radar equipment will need to be able to handle more than one mission, such as air surveillance and counterfire missions," he said. "Electronic Warfare equipment will need to be multimission (counter-IED and counter-UAV)," he concluded.

Barthel said that Xpeller's hardware will remain largely the same in the coming years. However, the level of automation will increase, further cutting down on false alarms. "All this can be rolled out through a simple software update ... Every customer buying an Xpeller system today will get those updates and will increase the level of automation all the time."

The threat from UAVs will change, he said, meaning systems like Xpeller have to also be able to evolve. The hardware has been designed to be generic enough to adapt to future threat scenarios. But the market is very dynamic: "Nobody knows what the threat will look like in several years", he observed.

Caption: The AUDS team has enhanced the counter-swarm capability of the system, with the radar system already capable of detecting hundreds of targets simultaneously.

Caption: Silent Archer is designed to detect, track, classify, identify, and disrupt hostile UAVs. The system's operations can be divided into three broad areas: detect, decide and defeat.

Caption: The Xpeller system has a range of target markets, including military users, and has seen increasing interest in recent years, according to Hensoldt. Above, a demonstration in Switzerland.

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Author:Cowan, Gerrard
Publication:Armada International
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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