Drones are becoming more and more dangerous in the sky

They offer enormous opportunities, but sometimes harbor great dangers: Drones. For example, the number of disruptions in air traffic is increasing. Defense techniques find it difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of technology development.

Significant disruption to air traffic from drones was a wake-up call for the UK authorities. Gatwick Airport in London was paralyzed for several days in December. Tens of thousands of passengers had to stay on the ground without the police finding the perpetrators. The government wants to prevent new drone incidents with expanded restricted zones and mandatory registration. London Heathrow, Europe’s largest airport, is protected with military equipment.

“The danger is great and growing,” says Jürgen Beyerer, who is involved in security and defense research at the Fraunhofer Institute. “You don’t have to equip a drone with explosives to cause huge economic damage. We have very vulnerable infrastructures, for example airports, which can be paralyzed just by sighting a drone. You have to make them more resilient. ”And:“ I think the airports have underestimated that so far. ”

In Germany, obstacles to air traffic with drones increased by 80 percent in the past year. The German air traffic control reports 158 cases, 125 of them in the metropolitan area of ​​airports. There were a total of 88 faults in 2017, the previous record year.

Remote-controlled aircraft that are used as toys or work equipment are becoming increasingly cheaper and at the same time more powerful. Whole “swarms of drones”, possibly with a programmed flight order, are the next technological leap. An enormous challenge for the military, for airports and ultimately also for major events.

Experts in the military and authorities are watching very closely how small drones are already being used as weapons. The Bundeswehr protects itself against such attacks when deployed abroad. The latest edition of the specialist journal “MarineForum” sheds light on the dangers posed by drones or entire swarms of drones that can carry explosives or even warfare agents.

In Syria, self-made weapons have already been used as weapons. Just one of several examples: on January 8, 2018, the Russian military reported that ten missiles prepared with explosives and heading for the Hamaimim air base had been located. Three more drones were aimed at the Tartus naval base. Some of the self-made plastic and wood constructions were shot down and some landed. A drone was on public display.

Israel is considered a pioneer in defense against drones. Companies there have developed various defense systems, such as the “Drone Dome” from the arms manufacturer Rafael and the “Drone Guard” from Elta, a subsidiary of the defense group IAI (Israeli Aerospace Industries). A Rafael spokesman, he calls himself Meir and does not want to give his full name, says: “The threat from drones has increased significantly in recent years. From a gimmick, it has become a weapon used by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State (IS). ”

The task of the “Drone Dome” is to detect drones and, if necessary, to switch them off. This is possible up to a distance of 3.5 to 5 kilometers. If a drone comes dangerously close to an airport, you can either disrupt its communication systems or take control of the aircraft and land it at a safe distance. Both methods are known as “soft kill”. A so-called “hard kill” is also technically possible – shooting down the drone with a precisely targeted laser cannon. “This is an option, but it’s not used in practice yet,” he says.

The “soft kill” does not endanger aircraft in the vicinity because drones have a significantly lower radio frequency than aircraft, says Meir. The “hard kill” could be necessary in the future if drones were equipped in such a way that their radio links could no longer be disturbed.

The system currently in use will be alerted if only the remote control of a drone is switched on in the vicinity of an airport, explains Meir. A flying drone can also be identified by optical monitoring and so-called sigint systems – “Signals Intelligence”, the examination of data streams for certain content.

The system can be operated by a person, for example in the control tower of an airport. Last year, according to media reports, Rafael sold six of these systems to Great Britain for the equivalent of 17.45 million euros. This is not the only foreign customer, says Meir, but does not want to name any other countries.

The defense system of the second Israeli provider, the “Drone Guard”, was used to protect the latest G20 summit in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires. An Elta representative confirmed that the system was also used near the airport while the heads of state landed there.

In Germany, the airports are responsible for their own security of the site. However, this explicitly refers to the floor. Air traffic control is responsible for the airspace, but only for known and orderly flight movements. In the case of unauthorized threat flights, the police also come into play: only they are authorized to exercise “direct coercion”.

“Experience with game consoles is an advantage”

In addition to electronic means, a shotgun or the use of a water cannon are also conceivable. Even birds of prey have been trained, but with moderate success in practical use. Also under discussion are restricted zones that are technically enforced through so-called geofencing: drones would have to contain an electronic component that scans forbidden areas and blocks entry.

However, there are also racing drones, some of them self-built, which demonstrate spectacular mobility even in narrow buildings. Beyerer: “Race drones fly so fast that it takes your breath away. Defense systems simply have problems with the dynamics of these drones. If these fast drones are then also equipped with autonomy, I would say that you are not prepared for this today. “