The Persian Gulf Region is Facing an Urgent Drone Threat

Recent incidents in the Persian Gulf region are in the headlines and making a lot of people, from oil industry insiders and defense experts to beach-going tourists very nervous. Over the past few days, militants belonging to the rebel group known as Ansarullah or the “Houthis”, have stepped up their campaign to bring the 5-year long Yemen War to the skies over Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Incidents include:

  • 14 May: An armed drone penetrates Saudi airspace and damages an oil pipeline near Riyadh
  • 20 May: An unconfirmed missile launch on Mecca. Saudi officials claim they intercepted two missiles before they reached their targets in the city, but Houthis vehemently deny attacking on Islam’s holiest site
  • 21 May: An armed drone attack on Najran (Saudi Arabia) airport. The airport is principally civilian in nature but houses a military base
  • 22 May: A second armed drone attack on Najran. Saudi officials acknowledge the incident, but do not comment on the extent of damage or casualties

To these latest incidents, add unconfirmed reports of drone attacks on airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 2018 and a deadly exploding UAV over a Yemeni military parade in January 2019 and it’s clear that the Gulf has a drone problem. It’s an issue that has the members of the Saudi-led Gulf Coalition, as well as farther-flung allies like the United States, worried. And it’s not likely to disappear anytime soon and the Yemen War drags on for another deadly year.

No End in Sight

A years-long conflict that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, the war in Yemen is also notable for the rapid technological and strategical evolution of a formerly rag-tag band of fighters from the country’s poor northeast. In a relatively short time the Houthis have advanced from traditional ground battles to effective and deadly use of drone and missile technology, often calqued on low-cost military equipment supplied by their Iranian allies.

As noted in an earlier article on our blog, Houthis are reworking fairly simple Iranian Qasef 1/Ababil T model UAVs by adding commercially available GNSS systems and either adding locally made bomb-releasing materials or using the drones as kamikazes to ram targeted infrastructure. The drone attack carried out over al-Anand (Yemen) airforce base demonstrated with multiple casualties the effectiveness of this new technique.

Not facing a military drone threat, but having trouble with intrusive DJI-style consumer drones? Read on to find out how you can successfully deal with civilian drone threats.

Local Drone Threats

As a security administrator or a sensitive site, you probably aren’t facing a Houthi-style insurgency. But, don’t let your guard down just yet. Consumer drones, also known as “COTS” (Commercial Off The Shelf) drones, have been causing quite a few headaches themselves, often without so much a firing a shot.

So, what can you, the security administrator of an oil pipeline, airport or prison authority, or other sensitive site do to stop an intruding drone? As seen during the December 2018 Gatwick incident, the dangers associated with using firearms or radio frequency jamming to bring down a drone make these options nearly impossible in sensitive or urban environments.

And even if your security team manages to destroy the offending device, with drones becoming cheaper and cheaper, a motivated pilot could simply buy a new one and try again.

So, what to do?

Detect the Drone, Catch the Pilot

Simple right? Except when it’s not. Imagine your sensitive site sits in the middle of a dense urban area, surrounded by a tangle of dark alleyways, shuttered warehouses, and private residences. Add to that a thick hale of light, sound and radiofrequency pollution. Now, in that middle of all that mess, try spotting a tiny drone traveling at bursts of 25kph – 30kph (15mph – 20mph) using only your 5 senses. Nine times out of ten you won’t.

And what about the pilot? He could be hiding within a 7 kilometer (4 miles) radius, safely ensconced in any of those alleyways, warehouses or private houses that you don’t have the right to search. It seems grim – and it is! But there’s a solution.

Radio Frequency – Your Site Could Benefit From It

CerbAir uses radiofrequency sensors to detect drones at up to 2km in dense urban settings like the one described above. Our Hydra sensor is able to cut through the ambient noise and frequency pollution thanks to specialized algorithms that “listen” for the distinct communication style that exists between most drones and their remote controls. Even when you can’t see or hear a drone in your vicinity it’s giving off signals that can be detected and be used to flush out its location.

Those same signals can also lead you back to the remote control – and the person operating it. With pilot geolocation, a remote can be pinpointed to within +/- 10° of its actual position, making it much easier for local law enforcement to locate the pilot. Once apprehended, the threat itself is neutralized without the use of complicated and potentially dangerous drone interception techniques.

More Information

Want to know more about radio frequency and drone detection methods? Click here to download our White Paper on choosing the right anti-drone solution for your sensitive site.

Curious about drone regulations in the Gulf Region? Click here to download our overview of drone regulations in countries around the world, including the United Arab Emirates.

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