Over the past 15 years, thousands of UAVs of different classes and types have been produced, which are actively used in all notable armed conflicts of recent times. How to counter a drone?
In recent years, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become increasingly common. This technique has long established itself as a reliable and effective means of conducting reconnaissance, striking enemy targets and performing some other tasks. According to some estimates, more than 30 thousand UAVs of various classes and types have been produced in the United States alone over the past 15 years, most of which are used by the military and special services. Drones have been actively used in all notable armed conflicts of recent times, as well as in other areas.
The successful detection and destruction of targets, repeatedly carried out by American UAVs in Iraq or Afghanistan, clearly demonstrates the capabilities of such technology. Moreover, such successes of unmanned aerial vehicles often become the reason for the emergence of the most daring predictions: sometimes it is argued that UAVs in the future will be able to completely replace manned aircraft and some other types of military equipment. Nevertheless, according to the logic of the development of weapons and military equipment, a drone cannot be fundamentally invulnerable and omnipotent. There are already a large number of ways to combat this technique and in the future their number will only increase. Let's consider the main ways to counter and combat drones.
The easiest and most logical way to get rid of an enemy UAV is to destroy it. Any flying vehicle can be shot down. The main problem in this case is finding the target and conducting a successful attack. At the same time, a variety of weapons can be used for destruction. For example, small light UAVs can be shot down with small arms, and anti-aircraft missile systems are required to defeat heavy unmanned aerial vehicles.
Before launching an attack, the drone must be detected. Radar stations are the main means of detection in modern air defense systems. They are capable of detecting aircraft and helicopters at a distance of up to several tens of kilometers, depending on the characteristics of the target and the terrain. In some cases, UAVs, especially of a light class, are a difficult target for existing radars. These devices have a small effective scattering area (ESR), which makes their detection difficult enough. In particular, the maximum detection range is reduced. As for heavy UAVs like the American MQ-9 Reaper or MQ-1 Predator, they are large enough to facilitate their detection by existing air defense systems.
Nevertheless, the designers of air defense systems are making attempts to improve the characteristics of their developments in relation to the detection of inconspicuous targets. So, in advertising materials on new projects of radar and air defense systems, the possibility of detecting various types of drones is often mentioned. To effectively counter the enemy's light UAVs, the creators of the radar have to solve several problems at once. First: improving the characteristics of the station, which makes it possible to detect objects with a lower RCS. Second: correct target identification. Light UAVs have a low RCS and move at a relatively low speed. Thus, the equipment can confuse the drone with a bird, because of which the ammunition of the anti-aircraft system will be wasted.
After detection, correct identification and capture of the target for tracking, its destruction does not seem to be the most difficult task. Any available weapon can be used to carry out an attack, the use of which is most expedient in the current conditions. For example, there is no point in attacking a light UAV with the S-400 missile system or trying to destroy the Reaper with small arms. In the presence of a developed layered air defense system, the destruction of the detected drone turns out to be, as they say, a matter of technology.
It is known about the development of promising systems capable of hitting modern unmanned aerial vehicles of various classes. According to some reports, work is underway abroad to create microwave emitters capable of “burning” aircraft electronics. In the future, such a technique will be able to send an electromagnetic pulse towards the enemy's UAV, the power of which will disable its electronics. As a result, the drone will remain relatively intact, but will no longer be able to continue its mission.
In the context of the destruction or damage of modern UAVs, one can recall the old Soviet designs. In the eighties, the Sanguine self-propelled laser complex was tested, designed to disable the optoelectronic systems of enemy equipment. According to reports, the Sanguine complex, built on the basis of the Shilka anti-aircraft self-propelled gun, could disable optoelectronic systems at a distance of 10 km. At distances of 8-10 km, the destruction of the photosensitive elements of the target equipment was ensured. Thus, the "Sanguine" complex could well be used against modern light and medium-sized UAVs, temporarily "blinding" or destroying their optoelectronic surveillance systems.
The destruction of UAVs is associated with a number of difficulties in detecting and hitting a target. Therefore, in discussions of methods of countering such technology, an alternative to destruction is very often proposed - the suppression of electronic systems. Some modern drones have the ability to autonomously perform certain tasks, however, almost all such equipment is controlled by an operator, and commands are transmitted over a radio channel. Thus, suppression of the control channel for electronic warfare (EW) can, at least, interfere with the task.
Many armies are armed with a large number of various electronic warfare systems. To successfully suppress the operation of an enemy UAV, it is necessary to set the frequencies at which it is controlled, and then "clog" them with interference. Not all modern drones are equipped with automation capable of taking over control in the event of a signal loss from the operator. In addition, the loss of communication with the operator will result in the inability to transmit intelligence information, such as a video signal from a drone camera. The further fate of the UAV, left without control, depends on the side carrying out the interception. First of all, it can be destroyed, and the destruction of such a target should not be difficult.
In the event of a break in the communication channel with the operator, some UAVs have a corresponding operating mode. If the signal from the remote control is lost, the automation returns the drone to the specified area, where it can land. In this case, the control system ignores all signals, and movement to the specified area is carried out using satellite navigation. Using a GPS or GLONASS system, the aircraft can determine its own position in space, direction and range to the operator or the aerodrome and return to it. In order to prevent the "evacuation" of the drone, the means of electronic warfare must suppress not only the control channel, but also the signals of the navigation system. As a result of the successful "jamming" of all these signals, the enemy, with a high probability, will lose equipment that has fallen into the EW zone.
Recently, the French special services have become concerned with the problem of unauthorized penetration of UAVs into the airspace of closed zones. In particular, small drones have been spotted several times over military bases, nuclear power plants and other important objects. To deal with the potential threat, special systems are currently being developed. Not so long ago it became known about the testing of the complex created by Malou Tech. This organization presented a fairly large hexacopter (drone-helicopter with six rotors), equipped with a special frame with a mesh. During the tests, this UAV successfully approached the small DJI Phantom 2 and successfully caught it with its net. Despite its ambiguity, this method of countering small UAVs has a right to life.
Perhaps the most famous case of the "capture" of an unmanned aerial vehicle took place a few years ago - on December 4, 2011. On that day, the American reconnaissance UAV Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel flew over the western part of Afghanistan. Unexpectedly, the connection with the device was lost. For several days, the US military tried to find out the fate of the lost car. Various theories were voiced, but there was no convincing evidence to support them. On December 9, Iranian television showed the allegedly lost US vehicle, and also stated that the vehicle had been seized by the Iranian armed forces.
New information soon appeared. It was alleged that Iran was able to take over control of the RQ-170 apparatus and land it at one of its airfields. In addition, there were rumors according to which the Russian-made 1L222 Avtobaza radio intelligence complex was used in this operation. Naturally, no convincing evidence for this version emerged. Moreover, the specialists immediately had doubts about its plausibility, since the Avtobaza system is intended for conducting electronic reconnaissance, detecting radar and enemy communication channels. Suppression of radio signals or transmission of commands to equipment is not the task of the 1L222 complex. Nevertheless, in theory, this can be done by other modern domestic electronic warfare systems.
Soon after the discovery of the missing RQ-170, some information emerged about the possible course of this operation. The foreign press published an interview with an unnamed Iranian engineer who allegedly took part in the "capture" of the American drone. He argued that the Iranian military had succeeded in suppressing the control channel with the help of electronic warfare equipment, and also at the right time "slip" a signal that imitates the signals of the GPS satellites. As a result, the UAV incorrectly determined its coordinates and went to the Iranian military base, which it took for its airfield.
The Pentagon still denies the Iranian version of the UAV interception. According to the US military, there was a hardware failure, but the device only miraculously did not fall or crash. However, already in the summer of 2012, it became more difficult to deny the version of Iran, since American experts, to a certain extent, confirmed its plausibility.
As it turned out, a few years before the loss of the RQ-170, the US military, anticipating such events, announced a competition to create a system capable of "substituting" GPS signals. This technique of electronic warfare is called "spoofing" (from spoof - deception). In July 2012, the University of Texas staff, led by Todd Humphries, announced the creation of their version of the GPS spoofer. The essence of this invention is simple: the device generates and sends radio signals of a special configuration, corresponding to the signals of the GPS satellites. Due to this "substitution", the satellite navigator incorrectly determines its location, which can be used for a variety of purposes.
A very curious feature of the GPS Spoofer designed by Humphries and colleagues was the parts it used. It was argued that all electronic components are freely available in their respective stores. The only problem with making a spoofer is the software. However, it cannot be ruled out that it may be freely available.
Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel
Today and tomorrow
As you can see, unmanned aerial vehicles of various classes and types are not a unique means of solving the assigned tasks, which cannot be resisted. An enemy UAV can be destroyed, you can prevent it from performing its task, or even make it your trophy. Of course, all such actions are associated with certain difficulties of one nature or another. In particular, all countermeasures require modern technology, from surveillance and detection equipment to interception systems and anti-aircraft weapons.
It should be noted that all the considered methods of countering enemy UAVs involve the use of existing systems and weapons. Thus, the destruction or seizure of enemy equipment, with varying probability, is possible even with the current development of weapons and military equipment. The increase in the likelihood of performing such tasks will depend on the characteristics of the new systems and the UAVs that they will counter. One way or another, it is already clear now that the means of countering drones exist and can be used if necessary. It should be expected that in the future they will only be improved, adjusting to new developments in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Author Ryabov Kirill "Military Review"