“Frequentis: uniquely placed to facilitate scalable, affordable and effective counter-UAS systems for airports”

Karl Tschetschonig is the New Business Development Manager at Frequentis, specialising in advising clients and implementing C-UAS systems from effective detection to problem resolution

What are the key challenges to deploying an effective counter-UAS system?

There are three key challenges.

There is the organisational challenge, especially among the airports, deciding who is responsible for identifying and managing the threat and ensuring airports, law enforcement and aviation service providers work together when a drone incident is ongoing.

Then there is the technological challenge in identifying what kind of sensor and mitigation systems are needed to respond to the risk/threat situation.

The third challenge is the integration challenge. Detecting a drone is not enough – we need to identify if it’s a good or bad drone and to de-conflict it with other air traffic, especially in an airport environment. We need to integrate communications and incident crisis management systems to coordinate counter-measures.

Is it possible to reach the right technology decision without spending billions of dollars?

Of course! But we need to take a step back and develop a clear understanding of the threat situation and operational needs first. Ideally, you would want to protect against every possible danger, but not many organisations have the money to spend on such a system.

That is where we work with our customers to define the environment and the threat. This will give us a first insight into what kind of use-cases we need to investigate further and what kind of systems will be applicable. We develop a concept of operations and then define the responsibilities and workflows across the different organisations.

We have worked with international and national aviation authorities within working groups which define concept of operations (conops) for drone detection, drone defence and counter-UAS units at airports, including Airports Council International, EUROCAE and NATO, for example.

Are we moving towards a more consolidated view of which institutions should be responsible for detection, mitigation, incident management?

This still varies greatly depending on the country and the legal situation. The responsibility is typically shared between the ANSP, airport authority and law enforcement. The ANSP or airport authority typically take care of detection, whereas law enforcement units undertake countermeasures.

However, unless the responsibilities are clearly defined and additional budgets are made available, neither of these organisations will want to bear the cost. The only exception are large international airports, which have implemented complex CUAS programmes because they had gone through the pain of a rogue drone incident threating their business.

How good is modern technology in terms of fast and efficient responses to drone incidents?

The only real limit is money. Theoretically you can put together a system for any kind of use case because the technology is already there, especially with the RF scanners and radar systems available – they are already quite robust. Drone identification is a little more challenging. There are only a few systems that can differentiate well between drones, birds and other flying objects – therefore the number of false alarms are still an issue.

Frequentis acts as an independent integrator. We don’t have our own sensor systems, we integrate whatever is a best fit for the customer and their intended use case. We test and validate what works and what doesn’t. The biggest challenge is that there are so many system providers out there but not many can perform to their data sheet specifications. We have a real view on what they can and cannot do and we tailor a system and select the right technologies based on the customer’s needs.

Do you have a view on what should be prioritised when customers start looking at new technologies?

Everything starts with a good understanding of conops, threat scenarios and the area to protect including aerodrome perimeter, corridors, routings, sensible facilities.

Based on that, the first question is how you detect a drone – we need to define the right type of detection system based on identified risks/likelihood and customer budget. This could be a sensor but it could also be a human being on the airfield equipped with a mobile device to report incidents back to the control room.

If a drone is detected, we need to manage the incident according to the defined conops. The starting point for managing any kind of incident is a simple communications system which links the relevant stakeholders. Ideally there would also be an incident management system in place  to coordinate alarming, risk assessment and intervention procedures and communications amongs stakeholders.

Part of managing the incident is airspace deconfliction, where a data integration with Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) is a value add. With that integration, we can give automatic warnings to air traffic through ATC, de-conflict UTM and counter-UAS (CUAS) operations. And I can also differentiate between the good and the bad guys.

Another part is managing countermeasures. This starts with coordinating law enforcement units to find the drone and drone operator. With integration of mitigation systems, law enforcement units can jam and disrupt drones. With blue force tracking integration I can better manage my resources, asking airport staff to identify and follow the drone and coordinate with police forces who will have the means to take the drone down.

Depending on airport, risks and required KPIs, some airports may require more automation than others to be able react quickly and efficiently across all organisations involved. The automation is possible with a data integration exchange platform, which brings together air traffic management, UAS traffic management, counter-UAS and blue-force tracking, and an incident and crisis management system to allow for shared situational awareness and coordinated management of incidents.

What are the technical challenges to bringing this all together in an integrated system?

You need to deal with a lot of proprietary information, especially on the counter UAS side, and currently there is no defined standard on how we get data from the sensor and mitigation systems. We have a team of around 70 people in Frequentis working on surveillance data integration.

Our approach is to use system wide information management (SWIM) as a base line to interpret and share this data, which is well accepted in the ATM world and ensures we are compatible with current systems. We are also integrating UTM systems with solutions based on SWIM principles to ensure UAS traffic management service providers (USPs) can also be incorporated into the network. We can take data from independent USPs as we are able to integrate proprietary data formats. But it is a challenge: processing this data and getting the right recommendations at the right time to the right people is a complex process.

Rogue drone operators always seem to be one step ahead of the defences. Will we be able to catch up?

It’s a never-ending cat and mouse game.

On one side drones are becoming more sophisticated, robust and agile. On the other side there is a rapid rate of innovation in CUAS systems coming into the market by the industry.

This is why we make sure our solution is scalable based our open data exchange platform. It creates a modular CUAS capability, a sort of plug-and-play infrastructure, which allows to cost-effectively increase the effectiveness of the detection/mitigation system as the threat evolves.

With this approach, we can integrate the best new technology solutions in the market and grow with these innovations. Because in a year’s time new drones might be available which are more difficult to detect and we will need to deploy new sensor and effector systems to mitigate this risk.

Using SWIM and ATM standards, we can add new elements to our existing solutions to allow the system to be scalable and grow with new capabilities and procedures.

What particular strengths do you have in this area?

Frequentis is solution provider for control centres with safety critical tasks, like air navigation service providers, airports, law enforcement, military authorities, railway and coastguards. We built upon our experience in these industries and bring together our capabilities, experience and competence in surveillance, Multi-Sensor-Data-Fusion, UAS Traffic Management, Air Traffic Management, C2 systems and Counter UAS to deliver truly integrated, cross-agency, solutions for airports.

We have developed a step-by-step approach which will help customers get started on the road to establishing integrated, competent solutions, especially for the airport environment. This way we can save our customers around 30% in costs if we can avoid gold plated solutions that are not needed – and ensure effectiveness of the integrated CUAS system. It’s important for customers to follow this approach, otherwise they risk spending money on things they don’t need and they create a CUAS system that does not deliver what they expect.

In a first step, Frequentis consultants will help understand threat scenarios, roles, responsibilities, procedures, KPIs, operational requirements. We analyse the environment, including location and dimensions of alarm areas, sensible facilities, aerodrome operations, corridors and routings, runway capacity and density, typical climate, legal requirements and geographic responsibilities. We will consider best practice solutions from the working groups we are involved with, and from our knowledge base of sensor and mitigation methods.

From here we can deliver an integrated organisational and technical concept that fits with the needs of the customer, and brings together ATM, UTM and CUAS.

Our data exchange and integration platform connects all systems and subsystems from CUAS, ATM and UTM, based on SWIM and ATM standards. We integrate existing systems, including air surveillance, flight data management, communication, blue force tracking and coordination tools with new technologies, like CUAS sensors, CUAS effectors, UAS traffic management & CUAS incident management.

Frequentis surveillance data tracking and multi sensor data fusion allow integration of sensors from different vendors and the surveillance data distribution solution shares, converts and filters surveillance data depending on size and complexity (e.g. small site vs nation-wide installation).

Our Incident and Crisis Management solution (i.e C2) ensures common situational awareness and efficient incident management across all stakeholders – aerodrome, air navigation service provider, law enforcement, military. The solution is designed for complex multi-airport and multi-incident handling, and it tightly integrates with communication and collaboration tools across stakeholders and hierarchies.

Our UAS traffic management solution is the enabler to differentiate authorised/non-authorised UAS, to connect with pilots of authorised UAS and to avoid UAS incidents in the first place by ensuring adherence to existing rules and regulations.

What differentiates us is our legacy, installed base and experience, in control centres across ATC, airports, law enforcement and military, and our capabilities and solutions in ATM, UTM, surveillance data integration, and incident and crisis management.

Not all airports may have the budget for a Frequentis-grade solution though

No, that’s completely understood. A large international airport will have different needs from a smaller, regional airport which is why it is important to start with proper analysis and understanding before defining requirements.

We don’t want to oversell to customers; if an airport’s drone detection and defence solution is to have a few staff with mobile phones on the constant lookout for drones and when a drone is detected call the airport safety manager who will then contact the police, that’s fine.

It is important to make sure that the customer receives the solution that really fits the needs.  And it doesn’t have to be particularly expensive.

The key is integration and we are uniquely placed to bring the detection and mitigation markets together. If you buy a detection system from one supplier and a mitigation system from another and there is no coordinated means of bringing them together then you’ll lose a lot of time and you won’t be as efficient. But we can do this and merge these two systems with ATM and UTM data to create an integrated view, so different authorities can work on the same data through their preferred systems of choice.

For more information

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTN5mFBTcG4 (FRQ & Hensoldt integrated video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgzUpRxVyFo (FRQ standalone video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzUCX8Dg0IQ&t=11s (FRQ explainer video)


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