MyDefence featured in Ingeniøren’s article “The Drones are Coming”

Drone detection and mitigation

14 Dec - 2019

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English translation (by Google Translate):


Drone combat has become a billion-dollar industry that originated in war zones but has long since reached civilian airspace – even here at home. We have very few funds to defend ourselves against low-flying electronics.

There is not much to suggest the seriousness of this sunny October day in a field in Vendsyssel, where five men are out playing with drones. One of them displays a ‘coke-delivery’, literally a can of coke in a plastic bag, which he neatly releases into the grass, and then immediately flies the drone up and away. Another clown takes something that looks like a gray helmet on his head. But if you look more closely, it is not just a group of small-nosed friends who have taken the afternoon off to do their common hobby. The ‘helmet’ is a screen for a radar antenna, a so-called radome that the five are testing. And behind Hjallerup Modelflyverklub’s clubhouse, they have erected a radar on an eight-meter-high telescope stand held by strings. It tracks drones at several kilometers and guesses the manufacturer’s qualifications based on the rotor movements when they are close enough. Another tripod with two sensors captures and directs the drone’s and its remote’s radio signals. The five engineers have some of the most extensive security approvals in the world, and their equipment, which also includes radio jamming, has been tested on battlefields in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and West Africa, including by US special forces. At home, it is used by the police, the intelligence services and, for example, the Prison and Probation Service. “Especially the first month after the drone attack on oil plants in Saudi Arabia, we were simply put off by critical infrastructure protection requests around the world,” says Dan Hermansen, the team’s chief and CEO of the Nørresundby company Mydefence. It was founded in 2013 to make technology that could stop remote-controlled roadside bombs. But before it came to a salable product, Mydefence was overtaken by competitors. Instead, the Armed Forces urged the Northern Jews to use their knowledge to fight remote-controlled drones, which had begun to show up at the world’s combat sites. The company quickly reached an agreement with the US military and today has an annual double-digit million turnover.

Hundreds of thousands drones are on the way

The drone revolution is upon us and it is moving fast. US aviation authorities estimate that there will be 425,000 smaller commercial drones over the United States by 2020 and double by 2023. EU developments are on the same track. The drones are cheap to produce and fly, and they will make life easier for us in countless ways. Myriads of projects are in progress in Denmark alone. The drones have to move blood samples, sniff the ship’s sulfur discharge, check bridge structures and find leaks in the district heating pipes. Abroad, the development is even longer. In the United States, the courier company UPS has been allowed to fly pack drones outside the operator’s field of view and in the dark. In Germany, a successful demonstration of how a drone can quickly get doctors to an accident site was conducted in September. And in China, tests are carried out with passenger drones. But the unmanned aerial vehicles also pose a new threat, and it’s no coincidence that Mydefence’s technology comes from military needs. Because while many people first became aware of the problem following the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure in September, drones have been on the radar in the world’s conflict zones for a long time, says Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Galasz Nielsen, head of the Department of Military Technology at the Defense Academy. He was posted to Iraq in 2017, when Islamic State was to be expelled from the big city of Mosul. Here the terror movement was fully aware that the drones were as created for asymmetrical warfare. “I sat in the coalition headquarters and helped coordinate the efforts of the Iraqi intelligence service. And there we saw the legend of these drones. They had probably been there before. But it was in Mosul that they developed into a threat,” says Thomas Galasz Nielsen.

City War in Mosul became test site

Islamic State used drones to spy on troop movements, to direct suicide bombers in cars and to direct attacks. For example, during the so-called drone case at home, it emerged how Danish hunter soldiers were witnesses when an IS drone dropped a grenade over an Iraqi partner unit. An Iraqi soldier was killed and three wounded. Even Thomas Galasz Nielsen had to jump several times when the enemy drones buzzed over them. He emphasizes that the tactical threat was indeed low – but as a psychological warfare, the drones worked well for Islamic State when they flew over the heads of the Iraqi soldiers. “I was investigating what we could do about it. So I saw the development during this Mosul campaign from an early start, and until we got the drones to fight – to the extent that they can be fought, ”says Thomas Galasz Nielsen. Some drones come with grab arms that can carry and drop a load. It has already been used for warfare and smuggling, for example, into prison cells. In the Mosul urban war, the solution was partly to move in hiding and in small groups and to bomb the roads so that it was not possible to carry car bombs forward. At the same time, Iraqi forces targeted the drone workshops and pilots. “In the beginning it was easy, because there we could just send a rocket the other way. But then they began to remotely control the drone elsewhere and allow the drone to operate more autonomously. Many things were tested against them – microwaves, radio waves and everything else that the Americans put in. It was a bit of a clone, because nobody knew what was working, ”says Thomas Galasz Nielsen. Mosul thus became the test site for many players in the so-called counter-UAV industry who wanted to test their equipment in sharp operations. Heavyweights like Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, but also hundreds of smaller companies such as Danish Terma, Weibel and Mydefence in North Jutland are fighting for a slump in the market for C-UAV, which is currently estimated to amount to DKK 2 billion, increasing to DKK 30 billion in 2026.

Greenpeace ‘attacked’ a nuclear power plant

Drone-fighting technologies range from large, stationary and extremely expensive installations to small mobile and hand-held. They monitor airspace and track pilots. And they kill drones with vastly different approaches, including radio jamming, microwaves, lasers, projectiles, combat drones, trained birds of prey and nets that can be shot. However, the companies’ sellers do not only meet with the parties in the world’s major and minor conflicts. For civilian airspace, too, there is a plethora of episodes that reveal a great vulnerability to the drones invasion. One example is from the summer of 2017 when a drone landed on the brand new British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, while the crew of the patrol boats guarding it could just watch. “I could have carried 2 kg of semtex (plastic explosive, ed.) And left it on the tire,” the pilot told the BBC afterwards. Last year, the environmental organization Greenpeace smashed a drone into a French nuclear power plant near Lyon, and in January this year, the organization repeated the stunt at the world’s largest nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northern France. “What is particularly shocking is that the drone was able to throw smoke bombs onto the roof, ie. the weakest point on a building containing the largest amount of radioactive material in the world, ”Greenpeace said afterwards. Examples are in line: An American who threw home-made bombs over his ex-girlfriend’s house, drones that get in the way of firefighting, and sporting events that are interrupted. This year it was a battle between Dudelange and the Azerbaijan team Qarabaq that had to be stopped. A drone with the flag of Armenia flew over the field and the players tried to shoot it down with the ball. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict for years.

Drone delivered saw inside jail

At home, the drones have, among other things, caused problems for the prisons. At the end of 2016, unknown persons flew a package of mobile phones and a saw blade into a cell in Nyborg Prison. Later, several episodes followed, showing how easy it is to smuggle drugs, weapons and phones that can be used to reconcile explanations and threaten witnesses. According to the Engineer’s information, the Prison and Probation Service has since tested and introduced drone surveillance in several places. The authority will not tell the Engineer how often drones are detected or how they are fought, but according to a scant written answer “has implemented procedures and technology to address this threat to security in prisons and arrests”. Also, airports all over the world have problems with drones, and several times things have gone wrong. For example, when the pilots on a loaded Airbus 320 escaped a drone shortly before landing in London last year. Or when a Mexican Boeing 737 got smashed in the nose while approaching Tijuana. No episodes have led to the loss of human life, but it is probably only a matter of time. For although not much research has been done into the worst-case impact of the collision, the few studies done show that the hard parts of the drone cause great damage. In an attempt where a drone was shot against a flying wing, it went straight through the leading edge and damaged the load-bearing structure – far more than a bird strike would cause. And modeling shows that clashes will often destroy an engine. It is especially critical at low altitude where the drones are flying. On helicopters, the damage becomes even more extensive. Here, the drones fly straight through the windshield and can also destroy the tail rotor, which can put the vessel in uncontrolled spin. However, what is seriously causing global airports to waver is the potential cost of shutting down when traffic is disrupted by drones. When unknown perpetrators flew over a day and a half with a drone near Gatwick Airport shortly before Christmas last year, it cost the UK airport £ 15 million. However, the airlines had far greater expenses, with 1,000 aircraft and 140,000 passengers being delayed. Gatwick has since purchased a UK-produced directional radar, a tracker and a jammer system.

Copenhagen Airport buys drone defense system

At home, Danish pilots reported 11 drone sightings in 2017, six in 2018 and ten until the end of October 2019, according to Naviair flight service. Only two have led to aircraft redirects. But the problem can be a lot worse. A recent US study shows that pilots rarely detect drones, especially if they are stationary in the air. And even though the airspace at Copenhagen Airport is closed to drones, the pilots are not holding back, says air and defense expert Torben Pilemand from DIS, Danish Engineering Service. The airport is preparing to buy C-UAV equipment, and he is a technical advisor to a team that, among other things, has monitored current drone activity to clarify the scope of the problem and what it takes to address it. “We can see the relative altitude at which they fly, and we can see that the amount of drone activity is high in an area where we would not otherwise have expected it,” he says. Torben Pilemand emphasizes that Copenhagen Airport does not primarily consider drone surveillance to counter terror. It must be captured by others and preferably at a much earlier stage. Instead, it is about knowing if an amateur or, for example, environmental activists sends in a drone where it can pose a risk to flight safety. “The purpose is to have an automated system that can give a true and fair view of the drone activity. For Copenhagen Airport, it is about ensuring that it can run traffic as safely as possible. And in case it has to be interrupted to be able to pass on accurate information to the police so that the threat can be countered, ”says Torben Pilemand. Copenhagen Airport will neither, nor must, itself fight drones in the airspace. What the police want to do is, despite repeated inquiries, Ingeniøren failed to find out.

Great drone challenge ahead

The Danish Transport Agency will be a consultant if drone combat can have an impact on flight safety. And here you are well-versed in both so-called soft drone combat with area or directional jamming and the harder kind where the drone is shot down, says office manager Michael Dela, who is in charge of aviation, including the drone area. ‘We will definitely be open to that. We will look at all kinds of counter measures that have a safety significance. In principle, it is the police who have to take care of it – otherwise it requires at least legal secrecy. But that does not change the fact that everything that can get the drones down is interesting and important, ”says the office manager. However, he emphasizes that while it is a clear task to protect closed airspace such as in airports or prisons, ordinary airspace over the cities in which we live is more difficult. This summer, new EU regulations mean that larger drones with permission must fly over populated areas. And in the coming years, a pan-European requirement for an automated traffic management system with air corridors and flight plans will be implemented. The future will involve a constant jumble of larger and smaller drones in all kinds of tasks, and it will be very difficult to stop drones from doing damage. “It’s going to be a huge problem, I’m sure. And we will see entire industries that will live off of dealing with it. We will definitely see some things too. The amount of traffic to be handled becomes so massive that it becomes quite difficult to respond quickly enough to those who do something they are not allowed to do, ”says Michael Dela. It’s not hard to imagine creepy scenarios. Some commercial drones weigh 3-4 kg and can fly over 100 km / h. That in itself is enough to mutilate or kill a human, no matter how many PET guards stand around. Add explosives or so-called swarming – attacks with many coordinated drones at once – and the potential for terror is obvious.

Socially disruptive element

Still, the drone veteran of Mosul, Defense Academy Thomas Galasz Nielsen, will not paint the damn wall. “It’s more about not knowing what to do about it. If there is a drone you can’t control during a concert or while someone is speaking in front of Christiansborg, you may have to evacuate. And then it had an effect, whether or not there were weapons. So it’s a socially disruptive element more than a real threat, says the lieutenant colonel. Dan Hermansen from Mydefence believes that over time we will get nationwide drone surveillance, which will spread from the airspace where the drones are currently banned from flying. But he criticizes that Denmark has barely started, as he gives the Engineer a lift back to the airport from the model flying club in Hjallerup. In principle, the Danish fighter rejection contingency today must not go at all if an enemy were to send a few drones over the airport. Neither critical infrastructure nor for that matter Christiansborg is protected on a daily basis. Only a few prisons and PETs have drone surveillance with which to move when special VIPs are to be protected under the open sky. “But there’s no defense against a drone strapped explosive flying into a crowd. We have got bollards and big concrete blocks against cars, and when there are Christmas markets all around, the cars are redirected. But we have nothing against drones, ‘says Dan Hermansen. The Mydefence chief points out that the countries that have come the longest have coordinated the drone efforts, so that actors and stakeholders do not have to invent the deep plate themselves every time. ‘At least official cooperation must be started between different authorities that own critical infrastructure. Such people as Naviair, the Defense and the police have to sit down and find out how they are doing. They are not doing that now, ”says Dan Hermansen.