Indian Defence

Anti-Drone Systems 101

Hello defence lovers! This article is a comprehensive analysis of what an anti-drone system is and what it entails. It contains all you need to know about these systems and a brief background on why these systems are essential for modern warfare. Further, the Indian angle and the major indigenous systems in this category are also discussed in detail.

History:

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have come a long way. Today UAVs are light, compact and can be equipped with various payloads. Using an expensive conventional air defence system to counter a cheap drone is inefficient and cost-ineffective. Also, these systems are hard to detect in conventional radars due to their small size. The need for an effective way to combat UAVs was felt and gave rise to the development of the anti-drone system. Anti-drone systems can also be referred to as counter-drone systems. Countering a drone can be achieved by various methods, and hence many types of these systems exist.

Types of Anti-drone Systems:

There are many ways to bring down a drone. These include both physical and non-physical methods. These systems are broadly categorised into hard-kill and soft-kill systems. Hard kill systems damage the system itself, which it prevents from functioning as intended by the operator. Examples of these systems include laser kill, shooting it down using guns, capturing the drone in a net and other similar methods. Soft kill systems disrupt the electronics or the drone’s software, altering its operation. Examples include systems that disrupt the connection between the drone and the operator using Radio Frequency (RF) Jammers, GPS spoofers that disrupt the drone’s GPS navigation and High-Power Microwave (HPM) that generates an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that fries the drone’s circuitry.

However, to bring down the drone, it is essential to detect the drone’s presence in the first place. This can be done using various sensors and equipment.

Drone Detection:

There are many ways by which a drone can be detected. These include tracking using radars, using acoustic sensors, optical sensors (cameras) and Radio Frequency (RF) Analysers. The RF analysers consist of radio antennas and a processor to analyse the RF spectrum. They detect radio communication between the controller and the drone. The triangulation method can also be used to find the accurate position of the drone. Acoustic sensors catch the drone’s acoustic signature and help detect them using a rough triangulation. However, these systems are not effective in noisy environments. Optical cameras consist of day and night cameras that detect the drone. Night cameras include thermal and infrared cameras. Radars send a short burst of the radio signal and then listen for the echo of the flying object. However, they are ineffective for smaller flying objects and more suited for large object tracking.

The Indian Angle:

These systems will mainly be deployed along the Indian border to prevent the smuggling of drugs, weapons and ammunition for various nefarious purposes. Another application is the protection of critical military installations and naval and air bases. Mainly it will be used to prevent drone attacks like the one at Jammu airbase last year. That incident woke up the Indian defence officials, and the defence ministry went into a frenzy of anti-drone system acquisition.

Advances In Technology:

It is impossible to talk about UAVs and not delve into the technological advances these systems have made. Nowadays, drones have become lighter, stealthier, compact and silent. Such systems can and have been misused by people with nefarious intentions. Accordingly, significant efforts have been put into developing anti-drone systems to counter them. These have been built to counter-drone swarms that would otherwise overburden a conventional air defence system. Many advanced technologies like real-time data processing and sensor fusion have been used to construct these systems.

Anti-Drone Systems In India:

The Indian navy procured the Israeli SMASH-2000 systems in 2020 to tackle the threat it faced from drones. The SMASH-2000 is a rifle accessory that can be mounted on the existing rifles of the Indian Navy. It acts as an intelligent shooter and improves the accuracy of the rifle. It effectively acts like an unmanned sniper that can be used to shoot down drones flying in restricted airspace.

Another famous anti-drone system is the one developed by DRDO. Multiple DRDO Labs like the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE), Defence Electronics Research Laboratory (DLRL) and Centre for High Energy Systems and Sciences (CHESS) and the Instruments Research and Development Establishment (IRDE), BEL and the armed forces worked in close collaboration to create this system. It features a soft kill and a hard-kill system. It consists of a laser-based kill system and RF jammers based on the GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) to detect the frequency being used by the controller to control the drone. These systems will be manufactured by BEL (Bharat Electronics Limited). All three forces, namely the navy, air force and the army, have placed orders for the same.

Another notable system is ZEN technologies’ ZADS (Zen Anti-Drone System). It consists of an RF Based Drone detector (RFDD), a Video-based Drone Identification & Tracking (VDIT) system, a RADAR, a  Data fusion and Command Centre (DFCC), and a Drone RF Jammer (DRFJ) and a Hard kill system. The radar is an x band 3D radar. The Drone RF Jammer (DRFJ) can disable the link between the controller and the drone by simultaneously jamming ISM bands, GNSS signals, mobile signals, and intercepted frequencies. The frequencies detected by RFDD are automatically taken, and jamming waveforms are generated and radiated using the directional antennas.

The system also supports a user-configured frequency to carry out the jamming action. A provision to manually feed the jammer frequencies is also included. There are two options in the hard-kill system. Either an autonomous gun can shoot down the drone, or it can be captured with a net launched using another drone.

The BSF had started firing rubber pellets to counter these drones to minimise collateral damage in the nearby areas. The IAF has recently taken delivery of the first consignment of the DRONAAM system developed by the Gurutvaa Systems Pvt Ltd. It placed the order for an undisclosed number of systems in August 2021. The DRONAAM system is a handheld RF Jammer for counter drone operations. Plans are also being made to equip the NSG and other paramilitary forces with such systems.

What Next?

These systems are crucial to protect our borders and maintain national security. However, it is surprising that it took so long to induct these systems and that it took an offensive attack to wake us up. However, it is better late than never, and the armed forces are doing all they can do to get their hands on these systems. The scope of these systems is never-ending as the drone makers will do all possible to evade anti-drone systems, and the anti-drone system designers will do all they can to counter these drones.

This is an eternal game of cat and mouse, which will only intensify in the future. An appropriate example would be the development of anti-aircraft missiles and the counter development of missile countermeasure systems. This game has been going on since the development of the anti-aircraft rocket, and it continues to date. Many advancements will be made in this field, and it will be interesting to observe how this plays out in India. This said the armed forces will do all they can to protect our borders and safeguard our nation.

Overall, the country has a dire need for such systems, and they should be inducted in large numbers across the country. They act as a stopgap measure against such drone threats and help to neutralise them.

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Kanak Agarwal

Kanak Agarwal is a first year Aeronautical Engineering student at MIT Manipal. An avid reader and a military aviation enthusiast.

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