Countering Rogue Drones 101: Part 3 - Kinetic Weapons

In part 2 of this series, we discussed education and perimeter protection as two foundational countermeasures against drones. Frankly, unless you have done your homework in these two areas, you may be wasting your time and money considering kinetic and electronic countermeasures.

In this part of our series we will discuss drone countermeasures based on kinetic systems. Again, a cautionary note is needed: under the current legal and regulatory environment most people and organizations do not have the authority to employ these against drones. But with vendors across the globe selling these systems, it’s prudent to understand their capabilities.

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Kinetic systems are countermeasures designed to impact a drone in-flight and either damage it or disable it. That might bring the image of a shotgun to mind, and while the picture is accurate, it’s far from complete.

Kinetic systems range from trained falcons—yes, a raptor designed to attack and take down a drone—to counter-drones that can track and collide with a rouge drone. In between, you have ballistic devices such as net guns and shotguns.

Firearms and other ballistic systems serve as point-defense weapons against drones, meaning they are used to protect a small area or a single thing. Put another way, this means all of your other countermeasures either failed or didn’t exist, and the drone has made it to its area of interest.  Whether firing buckshot or a net, these systems are a last line of defense.

Successful employment of a ballistic system relies on your drone-tracking ability and how well you trained your marksman. That’s because the drone needs to be spotted in sufficient time for the fire team to get under the path of the drone, deploy its weapons, and start shooting. These are short-range weapons effective for 100 feet or less and can be defeated by a drone operator who maintains good discipline in flight planning and good situational awareness in monitoring the drone’s flight path.

Interestingly, birds of prey have been employed for counter-drone activity as well. Specially trained falcons have been taught to recognize drones and capture them with their talons. Before you scoff at this tactic, consider a drone’s speed and maneuverability. Getting to a drone before it gets to you requires matching these attributes, which a raptor can do. The major downside of deploying a raptor is the risk to the bird. Drones are essentially inverted, flying lawnmowers, and while the raptor will try to avoid the dangerous rotors, it’s a risky—and some would say inhumane—endeavor.

That brings us to counter-drone drones. These are drones designed to drop a net on or collide with a hostile drone. This state-of-the-art device is manually operated by a drone operator who uses the cameras in his drone to track and intercept the offending drone. On one hand, this countermeasure offers the speed and maneuverability of a drone necessary to interrupt the offending drone at speed and at altitude. On the other, it’s akin to the problem of hitting a bullet with a bullet.

What’s ahead? Companies are testing counter-drone drones that rely on synthetic vision and autonomy to take the human operator out of the intercept loop. These systems rely on optics and LIDAR to scan the sky, identify targets, and send navigation commands to the drone to perform an intercept. Expect these in a few years.

Longer-term, counter-drone drones may represent an effective and affordable solution to rid skies of offending drone systems. Until then, there are jamming systems that are likely to play larger near-term roles in counter-drone operations. We’ll discuss jamming and spoofing in part 4.