News Drone Wars: The Current Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Threat Zev Nadler August 4, 2023 Join the Conversation During World War II, Japan was deterred from invading the U.S. mainland by a fear of American citizens with guns in their closets. Folklore credits Japan’s Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto as saying: “You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” Our guns were a threat to invaders then, and our guns are deterrents still. But now we’re seeing a new form of invasion via air, as demonstrated by a series of Chinese aircraft. On February 2, 2023, a Chinese balloon was detected over Montana. While the U.S. government considered the best course of action, many would’ve been happy to see Yellowstone’s favorite fixer Rip Wheeler take that balloon to the “train station” and never hear from it again. Downing an aircraft over land necessitates knowing where the debris will fall; this is very different from a berm or other backstop when using a firearm during training. When you’re using a kinetic device like the $400,000 AIM-9X Sidewinder missile that eventually brought that bloated “aircraft” down in the ocean, you need to know where all the debris will end up. What’s the definition of an “aircraft,” and why would you care? Per the FAA’s Title 14, it’s a device used, or intended to be used, for flight in the air. That includes drones — all kinds of them — and most of their use cases are for good. UAS GroupMaximum weight (lb.) (MGTOW)Nominal operating altitude (ft.)Speed (kn)Representative UAS Group 10–20< 1,200 AGL100RQ-11 Raven, WASP, Puma Group 221–55< 3,500 AGL< 250ScanEagle, Flexrotor, SIC5 Group 3< 1,320< FL 18,000< 250V-BAT, RQ-7B Shadow, RQ-21 Blackjack, Navmar RQ-23 Tigershark, Arcturus-UAV Jump 20, Arcturus T-20, SIC25, Resolute ISR Resolute Eagle, Vanilla Group 4> 1,320< FL 18,000Any airspeedMQ-8B Fire Scout, MQ-1A/B Predator, MQ-1C Gray Eagle Group 5> 1,320> FL 18,000Any airspeedMQ-9 Reaper, RQ-4 Global Hawk, MQ-4C Triton Examples of #DronesForGood would be law enforcement’s rapid adoption of them for: ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance): These drones are usually the smaller devices deployed for tactical awareness prior to serving a hot warrant, intervening in a domestic crisis, or just about any situation where an officer safety can be enhanced by knowing what they’re walking into. SAR (Search and Rescue): Slightly larger than an ISR drone, the sensors and cameras integrated into these aircraft allow for IR, thermal and powerful magnification to cover more ground more quickly. They may also have a winch and carry an amount of payload that can deliver hydration, blankets, medical kit, and more, until a helicopter gets to a stranded person. DFR (Drones as First Responder): An incredible use case for drones, these are pre-positioned to launch toward a 911 incident call and can arrive much quicker than a cruiser and at a significantly lower cost. They also help to deconflict; for example, they can send images back to command that clearly show a child swinging at a piñata as opposed to the “man with a rifle in the park” that was called in. But we’ve all heard stories of those pesky neighbors who dive their drone into your backyard or take “dolly” shots through sliding glass doors. Tempers flare and people say, “I got a shotgun for that” — but that’s a really bad idea. Here comes another Federal law, known as Title 18: “Whoever willfully sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce; … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.” Drone-dropped contraband seized in a U.S. prison facility. But an annoying neighbor’s drone isn’t the real threat we as Americans are facing. The bad news is that it’ll only get worse. In CONUS, drones are being used by nefarious actors to conduct attacks between rival cartels and other criminal enterprises, using sophisticated munitions. They’re also used to deliver contraband such as drugs, cellphones, and firearms onto prison grounds. Add military applications into the equation, as we’ve seen in the Ukrainian invasion, and the future is now. This is why so much money, manpower, and tech are being applied to the challenge of countering drones. But not all drones are created equal. Let’s look at how drones are currently classified by the U.S. government. Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (CUAS) and Integrated Air and Missile Defense expert Jimi McMahon says: “Due to my background in Air Defense and CIED, I observed a lot of similarities both in tactics, procedures, and the process we went through to develop the technology to defeat the UAS threat.” “Since this is an Air Defense mission, why not use Air Defense Artillery units to take on this threat? The response I received was that Group 1/2 UAS were too advanced for legacy systems and that new technology was needed to defeat the emerging threat of custom off-the-shelf systems. While I did agree with updating legacy systems with new sensors and effectors, I did not agree on not using ADA platforms at all, considering the Group 3/4 threat that had been stewing in Syria since 2010, if not sooner. Syria was the UAS testing ground way before Azerbaijan and Ukraine.” “Fast-forward to 2019. I’m a civilian contractor at a remote Forward Operating Base in Iraq conducting CUAS operations with U.S. Forces for Base Defense Operations. This one night in particular, I was in the Tactical Operations Center observing tracks from the KURFS Radar and multiple other sensors. Myself and three Marines watched four Group 3/4 UAS fly in formation over our location; it was a reality check to us all.” “The next day we briefed the leadership about the incident, and I suggested bringing in Avenger Weapon Systems for base defense against the Group 3 and above UAS as a kinetic option. My request was denied.” “Three months later, our bases in Iraq were hit with ballistic missiles from Iran as well as Group 3 Iranian drones and loitering munitions. Within 30 days, Avenger Weapon Systems were brought in from 2nd Battalion/44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, for SHORAD operations. Ironically, this was my unit from when I served.” The larger the drone, the bigger the payload and threat. Until recently, most of the deployed counter drone systems were indeed based on Air Defense Systems, which were designed to identify and shoot down large and fast-moving objects like jets, missiles, and even UAS Groups 3 to 5. But drones in Groups 1 and 2 are smaller and slower, and those tactics were not going to work. If we want to defeat smaller drones, we need to first define the kill chain. While it can be broken down to “Detect, Track, Identify, and Defeat,” it’s commonly referred to as “Detect and Mitigate.” DETECTION Detection is generally accomplished by one, several, or all of the following methods, constantly being tuned for new “signatures” by the companies that provide the hardware: >> Radar >> Radio Frequency Analyzers >> Optical Sensors >> Acoustic Sensors One of the most recent evolutions of detection tech is a collaboration between Echodyne, a leading radar solution provider, and Easy Aerial, a supplier of free-fly and tethered drones. The unit below can carry up to four panels of Echodyne’s Echoflight Radar. The tethered version offers continuous aerial coverage for stationary deployments or on-the-move operations, while the free-fly version offers forward reconnaissance and early warning against potential inbound hostile drones. The solution provides real-time transmission of detected targets, allowing full situational awareness and integration into multilayered CUAS systems for ongoing target tracking. McMahon manning the EW anti-UAS system, while colleagues handle the fun, kinetic toys. MITIGATION Mitigation countermeasure technology falls into two broad categories: Non-kinetic measures to take control of the drone Kinetic measures that destroy the drone Non-kinetic countermeasures can generally be broken down into three categories: Radio frequency jammers that transmit RF radiation toward an enemy drone, thereby taking over command and control, and allowing you to: a) land the drone safely, b) cause it to fall to the surface, c) return the drone to its set home location, or d) “tractor beam” it to a designated point where EOD and HAZMAT await. High-power microwave devices that generate a strong electromagnetic pulse that interrupts or destroys onboard electronics. These can cause damage to friendly devices even though they’re usually equipped with directional antennae. Laser devices that generate a high energy beam that can accurately aim, target, and destroy an enemy drone. Kinetic measures include: Artillery: Munitions such as guns and missiles are used but present a greater risk of collateral damage. Drones: Warfighters deploy drones for CUAS missions against enemy drones, destroying them with kinetic payloads or by ramming. Phalanx CIWS, M134D Minigun, or other high rpm systems as displayed in this picture of McMahon operating a Flex Force Enterprises Dronebuster: McMahon explains: “The M134D and 240B are point assets used as a kinetic defeat option for Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) against all UAS Fixed Wing and Rotary Wing aircraft. This tactic is also known as Combined Arms for Air Defense (CAFAD). Electronic countermeasures don’t have to look like firearms, but there are advantages to this form factor, such as operator familiarity and blending into the surrounding squad. The Dronebuster is a non-kinetic, electronic warfare point asset used to defeat Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Groups 1 and 2 UAS. Point assets like the Dronebuster provides coverage of an area asset’s dead space in that weapon’s engagement zone. Dead space occurs from line-of-sight limitations due to terrain or man-made objects such as buildings. In Mosul, we had FOBs with radar tuned to Group 1 to 5 drones, SHORAD resources calibrated for various ranges, a Phalanx three kilometers out, and several Dillon miniguns as a last resort.” Last but not least, one of the most important components of the Detect and Mitigate kill chain is having real-time, threat analysis on a global scale. DroneSec is a recognized leader in providing UAS threat intelligence, monitoring, and awareness. It’s employed by military and law enforcement units in several countries and within three- and four-letter agencies in the U.S. Their CEO, Mike Monnik, says, “In today’s world, organizations need a force-multiplier to overcome adversaries. When operating against actors using UAS maliciously, hardware is simply not enough. You need global awareness of the current TTPs and local insight into nearby threat actors and their budget, technology, and procurement chains. The NOTIFY UAS Threat Intelligence platform provides a common operating picture of drone incidents, alerting checklists, guidelines, and reports to keep ahead of the threat.” In addition to stationary and mobile detectors and effectors (yet another name for things that mitigate the threat), counter drone companies offer handheld devices resembling rifles as well. DroneShield offers the DroneGun Tactical (bottom image) and DroneGun MK3 (below image). So What? Back to CONUS and your backyard. Can you lawfully react to drone attacks while navigating the federal laws protecting aircraft (FAA) and against using jamming technologies (FCC)? Will civilians be able to own mitigation (RF and GPS jamming) devices to defend themselves? What about just detection? And will a Flex Force Dronebuster be subject to the BATFE’s pistol brace and minimum length requirements? If you think we won’t be affected by bad drone actors in the near future, consider the less dangerous but still criminal use of drones by porch pirates. They may be using masks and hoodies now, but very soon, the bad guys will use drones to case your joint or use DIY mitigation devices to bring down drones from Amazon, DroneUp, Wing, or other companies that’ll be delivering your packages. Since the beginning of 2023, we’re also seeing rogue states like Iran and Russia producing relatively inexpensive, and larger, Group 3 drones. These are capable of inflicting heavy damage by delivering substantial munitions as suicide or payload-dropping vehicles. The current non-kinetic mitigation devices being used in CONUS won’t defeat these weapons, and they can easily be launched from international waters. Flex Force Enterprises outfits teams worldwide with their Dronebuster 4, with the U.S. Army having just purchased 240 of them. It may be worthwhile to take a deep dive into how Israel uses Iron Dome missiles to take out indiscriminately launched missiles and drones from threats surrounding her borders. Since every building in Israel has a safe room with reinforced walls and ceilings, the debris that falls doesn’t have the same effect as it would on roofs across America. But we need to start developing contingencies that’ll become CONOPS when needed. So, when will we be adding detectors and mitigators to police and civilian gun safes? In the short term, it’s unlikely. The legal, technological, and operational constraints just aren’t mature enough to zero in solely on the nefarious actor, while not affecting others in the national airspace. That’s why there are temporary flight restrictions covering a ring of 30 nautical miles (34.5 miles) during events like the Super Bowl, so that DHS can concentrate on just the nefarious or suspicious drones, without affecting other aircraft. The good news is those who help formulate policy at DHS, FAA, NSC, and other stakeholder agencies are aware of the threat and are working toward developing solutions that’ll be holistic and safe. Based on a recent conversation with an FAA administrator whose responsibilities include integrating drones into the airspace while figuring out the best way to counter the nefarious ones, he, and the agency at large, really do care about our rights to privacy and protection — but they must balance that against the dangers involved in the interference of aircraft operations. With the evolutionary pressures on drone warfare seen in the Ukrainian theater, where both sides are using commercial drones to drop home-made munitions on each other, counter UAS technology in the U.S. is becoming increasingly important. It remains to be seen where the weapon/anti-weapon balance currently lies. Explore RECOILweb:SureFire Now Offering IR Capable Handgun WeaponLightsTrails Found: Sig Optics Zulu 9 BinosSureFire's Genesis 762 Thread-On CanTactical Sights Dark Diamond Night Sight NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included). Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. 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