Countering Rogue Drones 101: Part 2 - Education and Perimeter Protection as Countermeasures

Part 1 of this series discussed the basics. This article addresses two of the best-understood and commonly available countermeasures to protect facilities and people from drones. These are education and perimeter protection which can be legally employed today by anyone or any organization, and should be considered foundational countermeasures.

Education. Before an organization goes down the road of fielding exotic, and likely expensive, technology to counter drones, a good first step is working with the local community to develop educational and messaging campaigns aimed at drone operators. FAA figures show that nearly eight out of 10 drone operators fall into the “hobbyist” category [1], making them among the most likely users to be unaware of the restrictions and potential dangers caused by their operations. It’s a safe assumption that the threat posed by this group falls more into the realm of reckless operation than malicious intent.

This and a few other factors mean that a targeted messaging campaign—social media, public-service announcements, signage, etc.—can be very effective. Add in that 75% of drones[3] purchased in the U.S. come from just one manufacturer and range in price from $500-$1,500. That’s a lot of money to a “hobbyist,” and it’s a safe bet they will not want to forfeit their aircraft for breaking a law. You can this to your advantage in a targeted campaign and likely help reduce illegal nuisance operations.

Perimeter protection. This is one of the most overlooked and cheapest countermeasures available. That’s because most people don’t take the time to understand drones, evaluate their vulnerabilities, and exploit them.

For instance, if you understand how they work, then you can identify the locations around your infrastructure where they are most likely to be operated from. You can then monitor these areas both as a deterrent and active countermeasure, using active patrols or passive CCTV monitoring, and provide effective backup for your security forces.

A drone operator will want to launch her aircraft from a location that both maximizes battery life and her radio link with the aircraft. Weight and distance are the two mortal enemies of battery life. As the weight of an aircraft increases, power usage exponentially increases, and range exponentially decreases. As distance required to fly increases, the weight a drone can carry exponentially decreases.

Simply put, by denying close-in locations to your facility, you exponentially cause more problems for all drone operators. There’s some math involved here, but given factors such as type of threat you are concerned with, locations you are looking to protect, and type of drone you are trying to defeat, you can make a fairly detailed map of probable launch locations. These become the areas around your facility you need to monitor—and that is half of the equation.

The other half involves exploiting the need for a drone operator to remain in contact with his aircraft in order to steer the device through onboard camera systems via a command link. Depending on the radio frequency, these links have various ranges but all share the same vulnerability: they need a clear line of sight between the operator and the drone. Buildings, trees, hills, foliage and a host of other structures all interfere with a drone’s lifeline—its command-and control signal.

In the most simplified form, you can use terrain maps and a bit more math to identify areas where there is a clear line of sight to the parts of a facility you are trying to protect. This can be reversed-engineered to identify likely and less likely launch points. This information combined with the map you created that factors in battery life and drone performance, gives you several important datasets that can be developed into robust maps integrated into perimeter protection plans.

A good site survey combined with introspection on your specific vulnerabilities can result in a plan for patrolling and monitoring the most likely drone-operator site around your facility. This approach is not only effective and educational for subsequent planning, it’s also far more inexpensive than more complex technologies under consideration for counter-drone use. We’ll explore one of them, kinetic countermeasures, in part 3.