The Trouble(s) with DJI’s Aeroscope

DJI is the world’s largest manufacturer of civilian drones and its products can be found in a wide variety of recreational and commercial settings. Given the ubiquity of DJI drones, their ease of use and affordability, many governments and police entities around the world now employ them in their day-to-day operations.

In October 2017, following a series of drone-related incidents, the Chinese drone giant released a drone detection and tracking system called Aeroscope designed to allow security administrators to spot errant or hostile DJI UAS in their airspace. Aeroscope has been adopted at a few major airports and is seen by some as an answer to a growing drone threat to air traffic. But, Aeroscope comes with some serious issues of its own.

Risky Investment?

Tensions have been rising between the United States and DJI’s home country of China and US officials have become increasingly fearful of Chinese-made devices potentially spying on American communications and critical infrastructure and transferring information back to China. 

In May 2019, President Trump signed an executive order allowing the US government to ban the importation or use at sensitive sites of flagged Chinese tech, declaring a “national emergency” over alleged attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in American IT and communication systems for spying purposes. Huawei’s 5G project has already been targeted for suppression by the US government and various US allies dropped the technology under American pressure. Could DJI and its products, including Aeroscope, be next?

The future looks ominous. Although the executive order singled no specific country or company out for punishment, it was widely interpreted as a swipe at China. Furthermore, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the US Department of Homeland Security issued an alert on May 2019 that Chinese-made drones may pose a “potential risk to an organization’s information.” The alert continued, 

The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access…Those concerns apply with equal force to certain Chinese-made (unmanned aircraft systems)-connected devices capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them, as China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities.”

Once again, no particular company was singled-out, but given that DJI drones account for around 80% of the US and Canada civilian drone market and that it maintains its headquarters and servers in Shenzhen, China,  DJI is the most likely target. DJI has vigorously denied any involvement in espionage and taken steps to relocate some of its operations to North America, but among US officials a heavy cloud of suspicion hangs over the company.

If the Department of Homeland Security or President Trump decides to crack down on DJI technology, use of Aeroscope, particularly at sensitive sites in American territory such as airports, seaports or military infrastructure may become impossible. And the threat isn’t limited only to the United States. As illustrated by the case of Huawei, the American government has been known to put heavy pressure on its allies to divest themselves of technology it considers dangerous, meaning security administrators in Europe, the Americas, and Australia may be forced to throw out Aeroscope and other DJI products if they want to continue doing business with the US.

Although the threat of an American crackdown should weigh heavily on the mind of anyone thinking of integrating Aeroscope into their airspace security set up, Aeroscope presents a couple of other serious limitations that merit consideration.

CerbAir is proud to be the French leader in counter-drone solutions with proprietary technology developed in-house, within the European Union. That means there are no potential backdoors or diplomatic snags that could put your sensitive airspace, or your investment at risk.

The Other 20%

DJI drones account for about 80% of the civilian drones on the market today and its Aeroscope system is capable of picking up the vast majority of them. But what about the other 20%? In the case of a dedicated criminal or terrorist group, the solution is as simple as purchasing a non-DJI drone (of which there are dozens of models and companies to choose from) to slip through a security system and reach their target. Some adversaries, like the Syrian rebels who attacked a Russian airbase in early 2018, even build their own drones from scratch – making impossible for Aeroscope to catch.

At CerbAir, our drone detection solution detects the overwhelming majority of civilian drones on the market today (DJI and non-DJI alike), and our direction-finding feature allows a security administrator to locate the rogue drone pilot on top of his UAV. Police or security personnel can be immediately directed to the area and apprehend the offending pilot, eliminating the drone threat at its root and reducing the chances of repeated incidents. Gatwick’s nearly 3-day closure cost the airport authority and airlines nearly £17 million in lost revenue. Imagine the savings if the drone operator could have been taken out within the very first hour of the incident.

Is it worth the risk?

DJI and Aeroscope are household names and many people are attracted to the simplicity of adopting an Aeroscope anti-drone solution without really doing much research on the pros and cons. But, buyer beware. While Aeroscope is a fine product, the risks of a US crackdown on DJI and the limitations and vulnerabilities built into Aeroscope’s fabric might make it more trouble than you’ve bargained for. 

When looking for an anti-drone solution, ease of installation and use, as well as cost should all figure into your calculations. But a few other key features to consider include a CUAS solution that is:

  • Unlikely to get caught up in diplomatic struggles between superpowers,
  • Does not suffer from potential espionage and hacking risks (prefer in-house developed technology),
  • Detects nearly all drones on the market, not just one brand,

About CerbAir

CerbAir is a European leader in CUAS (anti-drone) detection and neutralization solutions. CerbAir’s DroneWatch is a combination of scalable, drone detection with our Hydra radio frequency sensor and our software powered by proprietary algorithms. Our anti-drone solutions allow security administrators to detect, characterize and neutralize* hostile drones and locate their pilots from the moment the drone remote control is switched on.

*The purchase or usage of jamming technologies only applies to public order, national defense or national security needs, or public law enforcement in accordance with local regulations.

Press Release: AirMap and CerbAir integrate UTM & CUAS

Press Release: AirMap and CerbAir collaborate to integrate UTM and Counter-UAS technologies for a comprehensive low-altitude airspace safety and security solution

Paris, 21 June 2019 – Paris Air Show – CerbAir, a leading European manufacturer of Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) solutions, and AirMap, the leading global airspace intelligence platform for drones, today announced their collaboration to provide integrated, comprehensive solutions for low-altitude airspace safety and security.

Following the worldwide growth in the use of UAS, or drones, there has been a significant increase in drone-related incursions reported at airports, sensitive sites and events. With today’s announcement, CerbAir and AirMap are responding to the urgent need to combine efficient UAS traffic management with reliable protection from rogue or accidental drone intrusions.

As an integrated system, the technology and services of CerbAir and AirMap produce a comprehensive suite of UAS management and detection solutions. AirMap’s UAS Traffic Management (UTM) Platform enables public authorities and airspace managers to deliver safety-critical services such as registration, airspace information, authorizations, and traffic management to UAS operators in low altitude airspace. CerbAir’s DroneWatch technology assures detection and characterization of unregistered drones, and its Direction Finding, Azimuth, and optional Electronic Countermeasure functions enable authorities to identify and immediately address unauthorized UAS and their pilots.

“UAS technology will only reach its full potential if low-altitude airspace is safe, secure, and managed. Unlocking the full economic and societal benefits that drones can provide requires management of registered and authorized drone operations as well as detection of unregistered or bad actors. Combining AirMap’s UTM technology and services with CerbAir’s C-UAS solutions is a natural fit,” said AirMap EVP of Global Business Development Larry Berkin.

“Recent UAS-related disturbances at major airports and intrusions over critical infrastructures or events, are vivid proof of the necessity of uniting C-UAS solutions with UAS traffic management. The combination of AirMap’s UTM and CerbAir’s DroneWatch systems is a much-needed advance in the field of airspace security,” said CerbAir CEO and Co-founder Lucas LeBell.

About AirMap: AirMap is the world’s leading airspace intelligence platform for UAS, otherwise known as drones. Industry developers, drone operators, and airspace managers rely on AirMap’s airspace intelligence and services to fly safely and communicate in low-altitude airspace. AirMap unlocks safe, efficient, and scalable operations by connecting the world’s drones to airspace authorities through an open platform of APIs and SDKs, with integrations by top drone manufacturers and solution providers including 3DR, DJI, DroneDeploy, Matternet, and senseFly. Deployed in the Czech Republic, Japan, Switzerland, the United States, and available in over 25 countries, AirMap leads the industry in delivering technology solutions for UAS Traffic Management (UTM) and U-space to enable safe and responsible drone operations at scale. To learn more about AirMap, visit: www.airmap.com

About CerbAir: CerbAir is the French leader in CUAS (anti-drone) detection and neutralization solutions. CerbAir’s DroneWatch is a combination of scalable, drone detection hardware and of software powered by proprietary algorithms which allow security administrators to detect, characterize and neutralize rogue drones and locate their pilots from the moment the drone remote control is switched on. CerbAir’s technology has assured airspace security and assisted in rogue pilot apprehension at a number of high-profile events including major music festivals in Europe and North America, and over critical infrastructure such as airports, administrative structures and correctional facilities in countries around the globe. CerbAir has earned the trust of major corporate and institutional players like various Ministries of Defense and Ministries of Interior and recently collaborated with the elite French police unit RAID during the 2019 D-Day Commemorations held in Normandy, France. To learn more about CerbAir, visit our homepage: www.cerbair.com

 

Press Contact

Thomas Gueudet

Chief Commercial Officer / Security Expert

Thomas.gueudet@cerbair.com

+33 6 61 56 91 82

Partner Profile: DRONE VOLT

Photo of Olivier Gualdoni, CEO of Drone Volt standing in front of a world map.
Olivier Gualdoni
Exec Chairman & CEO
of DRONE VOLT

DRONE VOLT is the leading French manufacturer of civilian drones for professional use. Founded in 2011, the company has gone from strength to strength, producing UAVs for the Construction, Security, Defense, Energy and Safety sectors. In 2019, DRONE VOLT expanded its airspace security offer by joining forces with CerbAir to provide its customers with a winning combination of surveillance drones and rogue drone detection. In our latest partner profile, Olivier Gualdoni, Executive Chairman & CEO of DRONE VOLT, answers questions on the company’s history, mission and its partnership with CerbAir. (Interview translated from French)

The Company

Can you tell us a little bit about DRONE VOLT: its history, its mission, and services?

DRONE VOLT’s expertise is in onboard artificial intelligence and professional civilian drone construction.

In 2011, DRONE VOLT started out by distributing civilian drones. We made our stock market debut in 2015 at the Paris Bourse and DRONE VOLT is a listed company on the Paris Euronext Growth Market.

In September 2017, we acquired Aerialtronics, a Dutch manufacturer.

Our Group offers a complete selection of professional drones which can carry loads of up to 20kg (44lbs). As a global partner, DRONE VOLT furnishes turnkey business solutions with added services and drone pilot training. DRONE VOLT is a supplier to administrative and industrial clients including the French Army, the French Defense Ministry, Engie, Total, Bouygues ES, ADP, the GTA, and international government agencies.

Our facilities are located mainly in the Benelux area, Canada, Denmark, the US, Switzerland, and Indonesia.

Personal: What path brought you into the security field?

After five years at the helm of the international group Cybergun S.A., which is a global leader in target practice, I joined DRONE VOLT as Director General and became CEO in 2017.

Security

What major security challenges do you foresee in your area of expertise in the next 5 years?

Mainly challenges related to legislation; the establishment of dedicated airspace corridors for drones to allow their flights to be managed as safely as possible.

Have you noted increases in illegal UAS (drone) activity in your country/region?

You could certainly say that there’s been an uptick in illegal drone flights and dangerous drone flights as well, but the trend is declining thanks to more and more restrictions and the efforts of the government.

In France, the administrative framework for professional drone pilots laid out by the DGAC (the French civil aviation authority) from 2012 onward is being constantly updated with new laws and decrees: the newest one on the 1st of March 2019 updated the zones where it’s forbidden to take aerial photos and put in place identification and registration procedures on Alphatango (DGAC website) for flying leisure and professional devices.

Nevertheless, rogue drone intrusions are still a threat to sensitive sites.

Partnership

How do CerbAir’s anti-drone solutions complement your security offer?

The security and protection of civilian and military sites which DRONE VOLT has made one of our commercial priorities requires adapted solutions.

CerbAir’s drone detection and neutralization capabilities, coupled with DRONE VOLT’s surveillance solutions, constitute a high-performance tool unequaled on the market that prevents drone intrusions into defined airspace.

Become a CerbAir partner and join us in the fight to make the skies safer for all. Click here for more information.

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A Round-the-World Look at Drone Regulations

When did “COTS” (Commercial Off The Shelf) or hobby drones first enter your consciousness? Can you even remember? Perhaps it was a holiday gift for a young family member or video filmed from spectacular heights and uploaded to YouTube. Though Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or “drones” have been around for decades, it’s only within the past 10 years or so that they’ve become widely available to the public. And with that increase availability came a number of unexpected security headaches.

The Threat Emerges

Before the democratization of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) technology in the early teens, there was almost no drone-specific legislation anywhere. Drones and their actions were mostly covered by rules governing civil aviation and lumped in with model airplanes and kites. A noticeable shift in the attitude of authorities towards consumer drones began around 2014 following a number of high-profile incidents involving drones:

  • October/November 2014Unidentified drones are spotted hovering over 13 separate nuclear power plants in France in what the Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security describes as an “organized provocation”
  • January 2015 – A drone ends up on the White House lawn in Washington, DC after the drunken pilot loses control of the device. The incident provokes a Secret Service investigation and raises concerns that the US capital could come under threat from consumer drones
  • April 2015 – A drone carrying a small amount of radioactive material is discovered on the roof of the offices of the Prime Minister of Japan. The pilot, who was protesting the use of nuclear energy in the country, received a suspended two-year sentence

Authorities Take Action

As complaints and reported incidents began piling up, taking many civil aviation authorities by surprise, a serious movement to bring drones and their operators under some sort of government control began taking shape. Although uneven, some common elements appear:

  • Limiting maximum flight altitude, often to around 120m (400ft)
  • Restricting drone operation to within line-of-sight and daytime hours
  • Banning unauthorized drone activity near airfields
  • Banning or restricting drone flights over populated areas
  • Prohibition of drone operation in disaster areas or near emergency operations

Still, drone regulations remain a subject of confusion for many including drone pilots themselves.

CerbAir’s Newest Anti-Drone Resource

That potential for confusion among pilots and security administrators alike was a major motivating factor when it came to determining the subject matter of our new White Paper. We wanted to give readers a global look at the current state of drone-related legislation: perhaps to inspire them to push for new ideas or reform in their own regions or simply to inform them of their rights and responsibilities under existing laws.

We’re excited to present our newest White Paper and anti-drone resource: A Survey of Drone Regulations Around the World. Within you’ll find an overview of drone-related legislation in five countries around the world as well as helpful links and resources to learn more.

Click here to get your copy.

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Partner Profile: Protec

Gil Ancelin founded Protec in 2003 after working his way up the ranks of the security and surveillance industry over several years. Today Groupe Protec (link in French), with includes Protec Sécurité, offers services in security, tele-surveillance, reception, as well as security training.

Protec Sécurité specializes in tailored-made security options including:

  • 24/7 tele and video surveillance
  • Alarm management
  • Security agents trained to intervene in a quick and effective manner in even the most sensitive contexts
  • Mobile security units
  • Electronic Security including intrusion and fire detection, technical installation and access-point control
  • “Cyberguarding” long-distance security

Every client offer is customizable with one point of contact handling the entire process

Protect Security
CerbAir Anti-Drone Solutions & Protect Securite join forces

In 2019, Protec Sécurité and CerbAir signed an agreement to join forces to offer our clients the ultimate in security technology and expertise. Protec Sécurité provides a certified and comprehensive security offer that combines the strengths of a highly-trained staff with technology. CerbAir brings to the table its advanced radio-frequency based drone detection.

It with great pride and pleasure that CerbAir announces its newest partnership with Protec Sécurité.

Sofins 2019 – The Crossroads of Technology and Defense

CerbAir will be present at the 4th annual Sofins expo from 02-04 April 2019, held at Camp de Souge military base near Bordeaux, France. We’ll be conducting demonstrations of our anti-drone solution (more details below) and a conference on UAS terrorism.

We look forward to seeing you at our stand D54. Click here to get visitor access. Be sure to register before the cut-off date: 26 March 2019!

What Is Sofins?

Sofins began as the culmination of years of effort by members of the Cercle de l’Arbalète to improve the ties between the French technology and defense sectors. Observers on both sides are increasingly alarmed by the growing role of new technology in emerging security threats.

Cheap and commercially available hobby drones appeared in the Middle East around 2014 as part of the Islamic State’s asymmetric push to dominate the region. The tactic was soon picked up by other non-state actors from Latin America to Eastern Europe and even by some cash-poor professional militaries.

Meanwhile, the falling prices of nano-drones and software allowing multiple UAVs to be controlled by a single operator means the threat of weaponized drone swarms capable of overwhelming traditional defenses is now looming over the military world. Add to this advances in cyber-warfare, 3D printer-based arms production and other menaces and the need to bring the tech and defense sectors together becomes obvious.

Sofins is a forum that allows new ideas and relationships to flourish, sparking innovation.  As Sofins’ website makes clear, the mission promoted by its organizers is to:

“Raise the profile of special operations by celebrating and nurturing the innovative spirit of micro-enterprises, SMEs and large industrial groups working in this area.”

At Sofins technology developers have a chance to promote and educate visitors on the newest innovations while defense sector players can test those innovations out, attend demonstrations and conferences and expand their network in the tech sector. The security “challenges of tomorrow” thus become more manageable. As a provider of innovative and reliable CUAS solutions, CerbAir is eager to share its technology and security expertise in the effort to produce a safer world for all.

Anti-Drone Solution Demonstrations & Informative Conference

In the vein of sharing our expertise and spreading knowledge about advances in anti-drone technology, CerbAir has scheduled two live demonstrations of our CUAS solution. Come discover for yourself on the following dates:

Tuesday, 02 April 2019 at 10AM

Thursday, 04 April 2019 at 10AM

We’re also excited to announce an informative talk by our Director of Business Development and Security Export Thomas Guedet on the topic of Civilian UAS-based Terrorism: An Asymmetrical War – a concise, but detailed look at the rise of the use of civilian drones in terrorism and war:

Civilian UAS-based Terrorism: An Asymmetrical War
Salle de Conférence du Sofins
Wednesday 03 April
11AM

Perhaps you’ve been looking for innovative answers to your security challenges, you like to keep abreast of the latest advances in defense technology or you’re trying to expand your network. Sofins, the crossroads of technology and defense may be just what you’re looking for.

Partner Profile: Securify

CerbAir is proud to partner with Securify, a Scandinavia-based security distributor who specializes in high-end solutions for wide-area intrusion detection and deterrence primarily destined for critical infrastructure such as energy distribution, airports, ports (although scalable to private companies and households). The core of Security’s solution is based on compact surveillance SpotterRF radar and our state-of-the-art Radiofrequency drone detection adds another layer of security to an already high-quality offer.

Securify founder Kenneth Nyström recently to talk about his experiences, the origin of Securify and the challenges he encounters in his field.

Your Company

Can you tell us a little bit about your company, its history, mission, and services?

Kenneth: Securify is founded on the insight that perimeter protection is far more than just cameras and fences. In previous lives, we have worked with video surveillance and analytics and in several situations experienced first hand this technology being both costly and insufficient.

We decided to change the way the market thinks about perimeter security. When many would consider us too small and maybe insignificant, we consider our size to be part of our strengths. Focused, flexible and deeply passionate about our mission, to make a change.

Securify acts as a distributor, but far from the typical archetype, we are specialized and provide field services to support our reseller partners.

Personal: What path brought you into your current field?

Kenneth: During my time at Infralogic I introduced Aimetis to the Swedish market in 2006. I was thrilled by the possibilities of VCA but realized over time that outdoor environments were a challenge and that the end users always wanted “more”, to express my experiences in a positive way.

In late 2012 I began to map the market, hunting for something that could work where analytics, fence sensors, seismic and microwave barriers and laser had all failed. I discovered SpotterRF and instantly understood that I had found the answer. Then and there, I decided that perimeter security would be my future focus.

But the other owners at Infralogic didn’t share my vision so I decided to leave. A few months later I founded Securify.

Security

What major security challenges do you foresee in your area of expertise in the next 5 years?

Kenneth: Mastering technology, new to the security industry, such as radar and passive RF detection will require manufacturers, distributors, and system integrators to collaborate. Due to the rapid development of drones, we face an unprecedented challenge, where military-grade equipment and multi-layer solutions, are required to protect people and society. The logical consequence is that this will lead to a new niche of specialized companies with both relevant tools and experience.

Can you tell us more about increases in illegal UAS (drone) activity in your country/region?

Kenneth: Drones represent a threat in Sweden and Scandinavia. Public airports have on multiple occasions been forced to shut down. Prisons, military facilities, and exercises have all reported drone intrusions. Private companies have experienced situations with drones sightings, potential espionage.

The Swedish government took action and in April 2019 the new Protective Act will take effect. This means that facilities protected by this Act will be able to deter drones with jamming technology.

Partnership

How do CerbAir’s anti-drone solutions complement your security offer?
Kenneth: Passive RF-detection is the primary layer in our C-UAS dual layer approach. By combining RF with Radar we are able to provide highly capable solutions. Securify has made a long term commitment to CerbAir by investing in a mobile Direction Finding system.

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UAS Technology Catches the Eye of UK and US Militaries

UK Defence Minister Gavin Williamson’s announcement that British armed forces are in the midst of developing drone “squadrons” created a buzz in both the defense and UAS worlds. Appearing at an engagement at the Royal United Services Institute, Mr. Williamson spoke of swarms of tiny UAS steered by a single pilot and designed to saturate and eventually completely overwhelm enemy air defenses.

The move comes as the Minister maneuvers to close budget and manpower shortages by employing AI and a combination of commercial and military technology.

The US Air Force Joins the Game

Britain is far from alone in its interest as cheaper drone models are seducing military strategists worldwide. In 2018, the Pentagon included UAS among the emerging technologies it was looking to incorporate into its new “Flight Path” strategy for the US Air Force. It came to that conclusion after Red Team exercises revealed that traditional staples of US air power like Predator and Global Hawk military drones were becoming a thing of the past.

“Gremlins” – DARPA’s project to “develop a full-scale technology demonstration featuring the air recovery of multiple low-cost, reusable UAS.”

“What we see is that the traditional big wing ISR has been routinely losing effectiveness over time,noted Kenneth Bray, the Air Force’s deputy chief for ISR, at a conference held in August 2018, adding that the Pentagon was not going to wait to move forward with new innovations, even if there will still a few kinks to work out.

Drones, specifically devices made of lower cost, sometimes mass-produced materials, provide an interesting alternative to the much more expensive Predators of old. And they bring with them the additional benefit of speed, with their artificial intelligence powered sensors and processors allowing airmen more leeway to think critically rather than merely process data according to another official.

From a Trickle to a Torrent

Of course, those in know are aware that expensive materials and sophisticated AI aren’t obligatory to turn a drone into a military asset.

The separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine has been marked by a steady stream of commercial and locally produced drones employed by both sides in a surprisingly wide variety of roles: providing surveillance footage of on the emplacement of artillery, tanks, and rocket systems, smuggling of provisions and even “kamikaze” drones designed to be sacrificed in an attack on enemy forces.

An emphasis on surveillance and attack was similarly observed in fights with the Islamic State during the Syrian Civil War as well as the effort to push the jihadist fighters out of Mosul, Iraq. Coalition troops regularly reported being harassed by quadcopters and dozens of Iraqi troops were killed or wounded by 40-millimeter grenades and light explosives dropped from UAS buzzing just out of reach, described by one serviceman as “killer bees.”

In most cases the devices were either off-the-shelf hobby drones modified to carry a single explosive or locally-produced UAS whipped up out of mix of homemade and commercially available parts, often sourced through third parties from unsuspecting wholesalers in Europe and Asia.

Beyond the Middle East, Islamic State affiliates in the Philippines, Libya and Yemen have reportedly used drones for surveillance as well Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

For Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, nothing can stop the coming flood of UAS expected to darken the skies of battlefields all over the globe: “The U.S. military and any military has to prepare for an operating environment in which enemy drones are not just occasional, but omnipresent,” adding, “Whether it’s a small, tactical UAS, midsize or strategic, drones of any size will be commonplace on the battlefield of the future.

The Chinese and Iranian Factors

The easy availability of drone technology itself might be partly to blame for their increasing presence in war. The devices can be mass-produced cheaply, parts are simple to procure and online vendors can ship them to virtually any part of the world.

Even for UAS specifically conceived for combat, prices are falling as producers like China are challenging American dominance in the field in more ways than one. A report on drone proliferation in the Middle East released by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies noted that in addition to the relatively low cost of Chinese made drones, China’s “no questions asked” sales methods did much to contribute to the jump in drone numbers in Middle Eastern nations:

“Purchasing armed drones from China, a country which does not abide by the MTCR, enables them to gain access to this technology without being barred by international norms. Although Chinese operators often conduct initial sorties, including combat ones, they do not appear to insist on particular procedures but instead enable and teach new users to employ their armed UAVs as they wish.”

The report also names Iran as an emerging manufacturer of low cost (and no strings attached) UAV technology, noting that Iran does discriminate between state and non-state actors such as insurgent groups. Though evidence and details are still “feeble”, it is suspected that Iran “might have supplied armed drones to Hamas, Hizbullah and the Houthis as well as the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.

As noted in a previous blog post, some non-state groups have become particularly adept at adapting Iranian or Chinese low-grade military drone technology with the addition of commercial parts or technology to produce a sort of “Frankendrone” that while clunky, gets the job done.

The Houthi rebels of Yemen are an excellent example of this. In January 2019 they sent an armed Iranian-made Qasef-1 fitted with civilian GPS to attack a Government military parade, killing several including a high-ranking intelligence official.

A Problem of Speed

Even though militaries appear to be enthusiastic about the potential of UAS and well aware of the risks stemming from its proliferation – actual rollout of reliably functional battle drones seems to be proceeding at a slower pace than many would prefer.

In the case of the UK, many were skeptical of Williamson’s promise that the UK could develop drone swarm squadrons “ready to be deployed by the end of this year (2019)” with one expert stating that the idea of swarm drones was “very much at the concept stage, and it’s very unlikely he can meet the deadline of the end of the year.

Indeed, for the moment the most dynamic players in the new drone arms race appear to be non-state actors, who faced with the overwhelming fire power and budgets of traditional state militaries are making due with what they can find and in an often very effective and potentially deadly way. It seems necessity really is the mother of invention.

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How can I Choose the Right Anti Drone Security System?

Airspace security is an extremely complex topic where a great number of factors need to be taken into consideration to provide the best possible solution for a given site. Given the depth of the topic and the enormous amount of competing anti-drone systems (also known as “CUAS” or “CUAV”) on the market, how can you choose a system that provides optimal airspace security at the best cost/efficiency ratio and over the longest possible period?

Qualities to Look For

Strangely enough, the same qualities that make a good friend are the same ones you should be looking for in a provider:  

  • Are they someone you can trust? Ask for references. Any serious counter UAV (“counter drone”) provider will be willing to provide client and partner references and most likely specific use cases to prove they know what they’re talking about. Also, be careful about maximum coverage ranges. Ask the provider if the drone detection ranges they’re giving you are under average or ideal conditions. The difference may be surprising.
  • Are they committed? Does the provider make the sale and that’s the end of the relationship? Just like a “friend” who disappears once they’ve got what they wanted, a provider who cuts all contact post-sale is someone to watch out for. Look for an anti drone security company that watches over you. Post-sale service, software updates, and troubleshooting are essential.
  • Are they knowledgeable? We’ve all seen that annoying guy who claims to know it all but can’t back it up. Test a potential provider’s knowledge and background. Does their representative and/or team have experience in the defense and security fields? What about their materials – do they straddle the fine line between in-depth and easy-to-understand, or do they go too far one way or the other? Can they explain how their technology works in a simple and thorough way?
  • Are they passionate? Trustworthiness, commitment, and knowledge are all extremely important qualities, but without a passionate outlook, a friendship risks falling flat. Is the provider you’re considering constantly learning and updating their knowledge on the CUAS field and all its innovations? Are they already doing their own research and development, or planning too soon, or do they purchase all their technology from third parties? A motivated airspace security provider will always be on the lookout for the newest threats and the latest solutions.

Anti-Drone Solutions Tailored to Your Needs

So, you’ve found an airspace security provider that seems to have all the qualities you’re looking for. Now it’s time to take a closer look at their equipment. While it’s extremely important to have a passionate and knowledgeable security team, without the right tools your airspace is still at high risk. Ask yourself the following questions when examining counter UAS technology:

Think Long Term

  • Can you scale it to your site needs? Is the technology offered modular? That is – can you easily add or subtract elements without having to replace the entire system?
  • Is it upgradable? Is the CUAS solution on offer a good investment over the long-term? Can the software and hardware be easily and regularly updated to keep up with new threats?
  • How durable is it? Is it going to last? And is it resistant to rain, snow, and extreme temperatures? This is especially important if the technology will be permanently installed outdoors.

Ease of Use

  • Is the technology intuitive and simple to use with minimal training? Does it feature a logical and easy interface?
  • Can the anti-drone solution be integrated into your existing security system? How about on-site installation and/or set-up? Drones are quick, your airspace security solution needs to be up and running fast.

Features

  • What is the solution’s base technology? Radar, Radiofrequency, Optic (Camera) or Sonic? How well do any of those particular technologies match the risk profile, topography and ambient pollution of your site? What are their advantages and weaknesses? Don’t hesitate to ask a potential provider to answer these questions.
  • Is the anti-drone solution reactive? How quickly can it detect a drone within its operating range? And what are its detection and false alarm rates – again, under average rather than ideal circumstances?
  • Does the CUAS technology give you the ability to detect the location of both the drone and pilot? Given restrictions on kinetic and non-kinetic drone neutralization in many jurisdictions, locating and arresting the UAV pilot is often the best way to quickly and permanently stop a drone threat.
  • Can the provider’s solution handle a multiple drone intrusion? Drone swarms are the next big security challenge in airspace security. Can the provider’s technology deal with multiple UAS without becoming saturated?
  • Is the technology low interference or passive? Local authorities can be extremely sensitive about “frequency pollution”. Is the provider’s technology low interference or even passive (only emitting a signal when in use)?

Costs

  • What about operating costs? How much does it cost to run the technology? Does it consume large amounts of electricity? Does it require a dedicated staff member to operate?
  • Does the CUAS solution hit the high quality/fair price sweet spot? While airspace security is an investment, it need not be excessively expensive. Does the provider offer a fair cost to quality ratio?

Many factors go into choosing the right airspace security provider. But with a little research and by asking the right questions, you’re sure to find the best provider and technologies to protect your sensitive site or event from rogue drone intrusions.

In the next installment, we’ll take a closer look at different anti-drone technologies.

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A drone or not a drone? Getting this question wrong could cost you

Was It Just a Case of Mistaken Identity?

On 22 January of this year, it happened again, or did it? A drone was spotted by two pilots approaching Newark Liberty International Airport – one of two international hubs that serve New York City. According to pilot reports, the device was soaring at an altitude of 3500 feet (1066 meters), well above the 400 feet (122 meters) prescribed by current civil aviation code.

Given the recent events on the other shore of the Atlantic – in the UK, Newark’s authority was taking no chances. The runway was closed with flights delayed or diverted, only to be re-opened 90 minutes later after no new drone sightings were reported. It seemed Newark’s mystery drone pilot wasn’t hellbent on causing any further trouble.

But within hours of the initial sighting, naysayers began popping up all over social media and the blogosphere – questioning if there had been a drone at all. As a recent article on the blog DroneDJ noted, even DJI jumped into the fray with the company’s Vice-President of Policy and Legal Affairs calling the sighting “not credible” on his personal Twitter account.

The official DJI account was more cautious in its assessment of the event but urged everyone to keep an open mind while reminding us of all the other times a bat, a balloon or even an airborne plastic bag had been mistaken for a rogue UAV bent on air traffic disruption.

Confusion Abounds

This isn’t the first time a drone sighting has been called into question. Readers may recall that in the heady swirl of confusion over the Gatwick shutdown Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley of Sussex police himself wondered – perhaps a bit too publicly – if the reason his officers couldn’t track down the offending device was that “there may not have been any genuine drone activity in the first place.”

The Sussex Police department was quick to issue a clarification of the Detective’s statement and a British government spokesperson characterized the quote as a miscommunication. Given the multiple witnesses who attest to having seen the UAV hovering over or near the runway, it’s highly likely that the Gatwick Drone was an authentic – and very costly – rogue drone intrusion.

But, why are these intrusions so difficult to pin down? Part of the reason may lie in the instrument used to make and confirm the majority of sightings – the human eye.

Visual Confirmation of Drone Sightings Is Not Enough

Human vision is not particularly well adapted to accurately identifying fast moving objects. A study conducted in 2012 by researchers at the University of Sydney’s school of psychology revealed that the brain sees fast-moving objects by “using blurs or streaks, as seen in photographs.”

Co-author of the paper Professor David Alais added, “The brain doesn’t see instantaneously. It takes about 100 milliseconds for the neurons in the brain to fully encode information.” Thus a quick-moving device like a drone may register as a blur across the field of vision.

While the brain can recognize the general direction of the blur and perhaps some aspects of its color and form, 100% accurate identification of the object in question is difficult. Throw in unfavorable light or weather conditions and certainty becomes even more elusive. Such factors help explain a large number of false UAV sightings in which a half-glimpsed balloon or plastic bag becomes a drone in the mind of the witness – his or her brain is spitting out the “most logical” interpretation of what it didn’t fully understand.

Given that some modified UAV’s can travel at speeds up to 260kmh (163 mph) in optimal conditions, the opposite may also occur. A real drone could be mistaken for a natural object, like a bird, and the threat goes unnoticed. Given the serious danger the hard metal parts and lithium batteries in many drones pose to landing and departing aircraft – such an oversight could be fatal.

Airspace Awareness = Airspace Security

And thus, we come to the most important reason accurate identification and investigation of alleged drone threats is so fundamental to the efficient and safe management of an airport: Safety. If an airport authority is aware of all objects in its airspace and able to distinguish between real and false alarms – everyone from administrators to airlines, to pilots to passengers, is safer and freer to go about their business.

But safety alone is only at the top of a very motivating list:

Costs – As any airport authority knows, the price of shutting down a runway – even temporarily – is extremely high. Three separate UAV-related incidents in 2016 alone shut down Dubai International Airport, the world’s 3rd busiest airport by international passenger traffic, with every drone intrusion costing an eyewatering US$1million (875,645€) per minute.

Gatwick was hit by an equally terrifying bill for its nearly 3-day runway closure. According to British press reports, the incident was estimated to have cost the airport authority and airlines over £50million (57millon euros).

With such high financial stakes, shutting down a runway over what turns out to be a free-flying plastic sack or misinterpreted reflection is clearly unacceptable. Airport authorities need to know what is in their airspace, otherwise they and the airlines who depend on their management risk losing millions.

Damaged Reputation – Not to pick on those airports who have suffered a drone intrusion, but it’s not a good look. Gatwick, as well as police and military units called in to find the errant UAV, found themselves the focus of anger and the butt of innumerable internet jokes during the crisis with criticism pouring in from passengers, airlines and government officials alike.

An opinion piece in American news channel Fox News observed acerbically that one tiny drone was managing to hold 100.000 people hostage (In reality over 140.000 passengers were affected) while a former UK Chief of the General Staff and former head of the British Army, Lord Dannatt called the incident a “national embarrassment.” His lordship added, “People in Europe are sniggering at us…and we’ve just given them 36 hours of fun laughing at this pantomime.”

Clearly, having a system in place to reliably distinguish between drones and other airborne objects (as well as the ability to trace any rogue drones and help locate their pilots) would have done much to avoid an embarrassing and demoralizing spectacle.

Airports Council International Calls for Action

The ACI (Airports Council International) is an organization created in 1991 by airport operators around the world and cooperates with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to: “Defend airports’ positions and develop standards and recommended practices in the areas of safety, security and environment initiatives.”

In January 2019 the ACI released an Advisory Bulletin entitled “Airport Preparedness – Drone related disruption to aircraft operations” in which it urged its members to take proper precautions against drone intrusions and the disruptions they’re liable to cause.

While the ACI advises members to be cautious when examining anti-drone systems, “ensuring that any new anti-drone measures do not create unintended safety hazards and unmitigated risks to other manned aircraft, authorized drones, and aviation infrastructures,” it nevertheless encourages airport authorities to take drone detection and neutralization seriously.

As their Advisory Bulletin pointedly states: “It is incumbent on all industry stakeholders to be prepared to protect the safety and regularity of aircraft operations.

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