Countering Drones with Cyber Warefare

D-Fend Solutions from Ra’anana, Israel, announced this week its new RF cyber-based counter-drone takeover system, EnforceAir2. This highly mobile non-kinetic solution consists of multiple receivers and transmitters and real-time processing in a compact form factor, enabling tactical teams to overcome deployment challenges on the field. The system was adopted by the US DoD, who has ordered over $3 million worth of EnforceAir counter-drone security systems and components to various United States federal security agencies.

But what makes the EnforceAir an interesting product is its concept: instead of using classical sensors and counter measures, D-Fend adopted techniques and methods brought from the world of cyber warefare, and had stacked them over a wireless layer. Legacy counter-drone systems rely on sensors such as radars, electro-optical sensors and RF directional finders. Older radar systems can detect larger aircraft but often cannot track drones.

The limitations of Legacy Systems

Modern anti-drone radar systems cannot always differentiate between small drones and other flying objects such as birds. Radars are also impacted by weather and are sensitive to refractions and reflections, which can lead to multiple signals from different directions originating from the same object being received by the radar.

Electro-optical sensors are used for identification of drones, but they are usually triggered by other detection and tracking systems, such as radars. When combined with radars, they are used as a validation technology to reduce the number of false detections. The biggest disadvantage of EO/IR solutions for detection is that they require a clear and direct line-of-sight, which is not always available in dense, crowded, or urban environments. Darkness, fog and rain can also hinder the effectiveness of EO/IR detection solutions.

RF directional finders utilize sensors to detect and track UAVs. They monitor common frequency bands that they can match to a library of drone control signal profiles to classify these types of signals and can estimate the radial direction these signals come from. They may not be able to identify specific airframes or provide the most accurate real-time location of the drone. In addition, in urban and complex terrains, directional finders may point to the wrong direction due to RF reflections from objects like buildings or mountains.

Hacking Hostile Drones

D-Fend idea combines wireless expertise with cyber practices. EnforceAir systems continuously scan and detect unique communication signals used by commercial drones. Once detected, the solution analyzes the drone’s information and protocols,  for a classification process, and tag specific drones as authorized or unauthorized. The system can extract the telemetry information, to determine the type of drone and its accurate position. This includes the take-off position and often also the pilot position in real-time.

Cyber solutions do not require a quiet environment, a direct line-of-sight and is not affected by weather conditions. Once an hostile drone is detected, the system can activate Takeover procedure: Taking over command of the drone and directing it to follow a predetermined route and to safely land in a prearranged location.

Percepto and Boston Dynamics to provide Multi-robot Inspection

Boston Dynamics and Percepto from Modi’in, Israel, have combined their products into an autonomous monitoring and inspection solution for dangerous and remote industrial sites. Founded in 2014, Percepto has developes the autonomus industrial drone Sparrow, as a drone-in-a-box solution. Sparrow was adopted to monitor some of the world’s leading utility, oil & gas sites, mining and other critical infrastructure facilities.

Lately the company moved to a higher level: It created an Autonomous Inspection & Monitoring (AIM) platform that can manage a fleet of third-party robots alongside Sparrow drone. By installing its own PerceptoCore payload on each drone, the cloud-based AIM provides visual data management and analysis to report trends and anomalies and to alert of risks. When a member of staff request data, Percepto AIM deploys the most suitable robot independently without human accompaniment to retrieve and stream the required data.

Here comes the cooperation with Boston Dynamics: Spot is an agile doglike mobile robot developed by Boston Dynamics that navigates terrain with unprecedented mobility. Percepto has integrated Spot with its AIM for automated inspection rounds completely controlled remotely via the platform. Spot carries Percepto’s PerceptoCore payload, which includes high resolution imaging and thermal vision sensors.

Spot and Sparrow working together at the Dead Sea, Israel
Spot and Sparrow working together at the Dead Sea, Israel

They are able detect issues including hot spots on machines or electrical conductors, water and steam leaks around plants and equipment with degraded performance, with the data relayed via AIM. “Combining Percepto’s Sparrow drone with Spot creates a unique solution for remote inspection,” said Michael Perry, VP at Boston Dynamics.

This week the company also won a financing boost to its vision: A strategic investment of $45 million in Series B funding led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT) to launch its solution for remote, fully autonomous, asset monitoring and inspection. It brings the total investment in the company to $72.5 million.

US Army Chose RADA’s Radars for Counter-Drone Systems

Above: Rafael’s Counter-drone system incorporates RADA’s Tactical Radar

The US Army has selected the tactical radar of RADA Electronic Industries from Netanya, Israel, for its Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-sUAS) systems. The Army has defined four C-sUAS categories: fixed/semi-fixed systems, mounted/mobile system, handheld systems, and command & control.

RADA’s radars are the incumbent radar system in the L-MADIS platform which was selected as the mounted/mobile system, and are incorporated in part of the recommended fixed solutions, along with other fixed solutions deployed across the US. While not relevant to handheld systems, RADA’s radars are compatible with the recommended command and control systems.

Next-generation Tactical Radars

Dov Sella, RADA’s CEO, said that the US Army preferred not only the most up-to-date existing technologies, but those new and emerging technologies currently in development. “We are in advanced development stages of our next-generation tactical radars that aim to address future challenges at highly affordable performance-to-price points.”

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), in FY2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) plans to spend at least $404 million on counter-UAS (C-UAS) research and development and at least $83 million on C-UAS procurement. In December 2019, DOD streamlined the Department’s various counter-small UAS (C-sUAS) programs, creating a the Joint C-sUAS Office (JCO). On June 25, 2020, Maj. Gen Sean Gainey, director of the JCO, announced that seven C-sUAS defensive systems and one standardized command and control system are to be further developed.

How to Tackle Drones

C-UAS can employ a number of methods to detect the presence of hostile or unauthorized UAS. The first is using electro-optical, infrared, or acoustic sensors to detect a target by its visual, heat, or sound signatures, respectively. A second method is to use radar systems. However, these methods are not always capable of detecting small UAS due to the limited signatures and size of such UAS.

A third method is identifying the wireless signals used to control the UAS, commonly using radio frequency sensors. These methods can be—and often are—combined to provide a more effective, layered detection capability. Once detected, the UAS may be engaged or disabled. Electronic warfare “jamming” can interfere with a UAS’s communications link to its operator.

Jamming devices can be as light as 5 to 10 pounds and therefore man-portable, or as heavy as several hundred pounds and in fixed locations or mounted on vehicles. UAS can also be neutralized or destroyed using guns, nets, directed energy, traditional air defense systems, or even trained animals such as eagles. DOD is developing and procuring a number of different C-UAS technologies to try to ensure a robust defensive capability.