By Jenny Beechener
Airports need effective counter measures to safeguard their operations from rogue drone incursions. What can manufacturers offer, specifically, to the airport market? Suppliers attending British-Irish Expo in London in June 2019 showed what new technologies were being developed to focus on airport operations.
Norwegian airport operator Avinor recently selected the ctrl+sky multi-sensor counter drone system to protect airports within its network, under a frame agreement recently signed with local partner Anker Sikkerhet. The first installation went live at Stavanger Airport in February 2019, with other airports due to follow. Anker CEO Ole Johnny Mikalsen told Unmanned Airspace the solution includes “a military-grade radar at a civilian price” and is currently operating in test mode to track both drone and avian targets.
Ctrl+sky is supplied by Advanced Protection System (APS) of Poland and provides detection, tracking, identification, and mitigation capability. The company’s X-band 3D radar provides 360deg coverage over 3km range, integrated with PTZ camera, RF sensor, and acoustic sensor. The CyView software platform relays data to a single display which can be viewed on multiple devices. An RF jammer which operates on selected frequencies outside those used on the airport completes the system. APS CEO Maciej Kemm added: “The different sensors complement each other and deliver a common picture. The airport operator can pinpoint where there is a device and liaise with the police.”
Installing detection and monitoring equipment allows an airport operator to make an informed decision without closing a facility for long periods of time. French systems integrator CS connects sensors and effectors within its Boreades platform which is designed to provide command and control for a UAV detection and resolution system. Already used by French police and military forces, the Boreades architecture is now available for airport applications.
Steelrock Technologies meanwhile has launched two products which provide detect, track, and jamming capabilities. The company’s portable equipment is already in service with the military, and at airports in the UK and overseas. Chief Technical Officer Chris Hamer says its handheld jammer uses algorithms to generate waveforms so these can be selected according to the application. In a more recent development known as ODIN, currently undergoing tests with UK air navigation service provider NATS, Steelrock combines detect, identify, track and defeat solutions. ODIN combines Hensoldt’s SharpEye surveillance radar, thermal and daylight camera, and Steelrock’s effector in an integrated system designed to operate safely at airports. The company is investigating whether “the kit be operated while aircraft are coming into land,” says Hamer, to provide a tailored airport solution.
Another company specialising in handheld effectors is Openworks, whose portable Skywall 100 net-catcher system is deployed at London Gatwick and Heathrow airports alongside the AUDS solution provided by Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics, and Enterprise Control Systems. Director James Cross said as drones become more autonomous a layered defence is needed with multiple solutions. “The key is how they work together and make use of smart integration.” The company recently launched Skywall 300, a remotely operated net-capture system currently under test in the US.
Metis Aerospace’s passive RF detection and tracking device SKYPERION is also an integral part of the AUDS solution at London Gatwick providing 24/7 detection and tracking capability. By triangulating results from a few devices, the system has the ability to locate a drone and its operator.
Among solutions emerging from outside the military sector, experienced suppliers of avian detection and dispersion solutions have been quick to diversify to offer drone detection capability. Robin Radar’s 3D Flex radar provides avian surveillance at airports across Europe and Asia, while its X-band ELVIRA model is validated for drone detection. ELVIRA tracks, alarms and records autonomous drone activity using micro-Doppler classification.
Meanwhile, DeTect supplies its solid-state S-band MERLIN bird radar to airports throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The company’s DroneWatcher detection and defence system consists of three technologies that can operate independently or together to provide multi-layer security. In addition to its HARRIER radar designed to track small cooperative and non-cooperative targets over 2 miles range, it includes an APP which tracks and records consumer drones, and RF tracking device which can be installed around an airport. DeTect supplied a dual-function DroneWatcher and MERLIN bird radar at Panama City Florida Airport in 2017, and is working with San Diego International Airport on drone protection solutions based on DroneWatcher.
Monitoring drone activity is a prerequisite to managing drone incursions at an airport according to Qolcom, a network integrator working with DeDrone to provide drone detection and tracking services. The partners installed drone detection technology at more than four regional UK airports during 2018 to identify and analyse drone activity. According to the White Paper https://www.qolcom.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Dedrone_Airport_Airspace_Activity_Study_2018.pdf published by the partners, 285 drones were detected over 148 days, most often at weekends. The data identified the make of drone, flight frequency and time of day. As a result, the airports have a baseline of data to work with their leadership and community liaisons to build awareness campaigns and target resources. Both London-City and Edinburgh airports selected Qolcom and Dedrone to provide drone monitoring services in the second half of 2018. The advantage of identifying and managing unintended drone incursions is the first step towards managing very exceptional planned incursions.
At the Paris Air Show, Todd Probert, Vice President of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services said that controlling drone incursions at airports and in commercial airspace is already posing real challenges to operators, as incidents at Heathrow, Gatwick and now Changi airports have shown. He speaks here to Michael Doran.
Is the need for counter-drone technology now accepted by airports?
“It’s come on overnight as a concern, literally within the last year you started to hear of significant incursions and so again there is a reactive nature to it. The fact is there’s no accepted model, whereas for the physical security of the airport there’s an accepted model now at every airport in the world. There is a physical checkpoint you have to pass through but that commonality is not the same with drone incursions. We’re at the very early stages of this but I expect it’s going to take on that level of consistency at some point going forward. Maybe there will be three or four different flavours, but there’s not going to be tens of flavours of how we go attack this. We’re building our system to evolve naturally – a common operating picture, ability to put in a number of different sensors and effectors and sit down with our customers and come up with a systems level approach to solve their problem.
What about geo-fencing as a solution?
You could go work with that but then you’ve got the limitations that the drone is going to have to know physically where it is, so that’s going to mandate some level of technology on the drone. All things are possible but what we see now is these things are down in the tens of dollars and if we start to layer more technology in it’s going to raise the cost.
What types of responses are airports looking for?
We’re seeing a number of airports who just want good situational awareness to understand what’s out there but who don’t necessarily want to get involved in the ‘do something about it’ part. They will rely on stop-gap type of procedures where you hold all air traffic and you send the police out to take a look but there are also those who want to take a measured response to physically remove the threat.
Where do you start in working with airports?
We’re seeing a number of our customers who want to have situational awareness in their space coupled with a measured response. Our core product is Windshear, a common operating picture of whatever area you want to protect, integrated with optical or radar interfaces to put sensors within the matrix, and then an effector to build a layered defence. The simplest way to take out a large class of these drones is to overpower the communications link that’s being used to command and control them. You can imagine a simple system that has basic radar and camera capability and then jammer functionality but is expandable.
We are tied in with our air traffic control focus and our anti-air heritage to all of the various communities that might use this technology, so we’re very intimate with how this is emerging.
We fundamentally see this as a reactive market so we have tried to craft a solution that will naturally evolve so our solution, Windshear, is physically flexible to allow for that maturation of concept of operations, any number of sensor plugins, any number of effector plugins, to allow us to hopefully to address whatever the threat is now and in the foreseeable future.”