Check Out This Drone-Killing Eagle (And 13 Other Ways The World Is Fighting UAVs)

Small, cheap, increasingly autonomous, increasingly weaponized. How do you counter drones? Here are 14 weapons the world is using to fight back against a technology that’s changing the face of warfare.

Operation to liberate Iraqs Mosul from Daesh
One of the most dramatic advances in warfare in recent years is the rise of the unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone. Small, fast-moving and capable of flying in swarms, drones are operated either remotely or, increasingly, autonomously without human direction. Getty Images

Another trend: drone technology is shifting from surveillance to weaponization. With more and more drones designed to incapacitate or kill, the armed forces of countries worldwide are employing a mixture of old and new weapons to combat this new, unmanned threat. Here’s a quick overview.

Drone Defender

One of the first specialized weapons in the war against drones was Drone Defender. Drone Defender was designed to jam the signal between a drone operator and the drone, preventing it from receiving further commands. It is also useful against autonomous drones, jamming the GPS signal that allows self-guiding UAVs to find their way to their target. Once jammed, the individual operating the jammer could then direct the drone to land on the ground.

Drone Defender initially resembled a cross between an assault rifle and a television antenna. The handheld jammer also includes a battery-powered backpack power supply, and altogether the system weighs approximately 15 pounds. The battery is good for up to five hours of continuous operation. DroneDefender broadcasts on a wide variety of frequencies for maximum coverage, particularly 2.4 GHz, a common civilian drone frequency. It also broadcasts on industrial, scientific, and medical radio bands.

Drone Defender is a “soft kill” device, as opposed to the “hard kill” of using a shotgun or other weapon.
Drone Defender is a “soft kill” device, as opposed to the “hard kill” of using a shotgun or other weapon. Battelle

Soft kill weapons offer a number of advantages over hard kill weapons. Unlike shotgun pellets, which could miss their target and cause injuries or damage to property, radio waves emitted by systems such as Drone Defender are harmless to people. This allows electronic anti-drone devices to broadcast high powered jamming signals across a wider area without worry of causing injuries. Pictured is the latest 2.0 version.

Drone Shield

Man posed for DroneGun tactical attack
Another system is DroneShield. Developed in Australia, DroneShield consists of a radar and electro-optic sensors to detect incoming hostile drones.Drone Shield

The system can then show the system operator a live video feed of the drone, day or night, and display its location on a map. Once detected, defenders can employ the company’s DroneGun Mk.III (above) to disrupt and down the drone. The company claims DroneGun Mk. III will “neutralize” hostile drones at a range of up to 547 yards.

Drone Catcher

Drone Dynamics Drone Catcher
Over in the Netherlands, one startup decided that the best way to fight a drone was with another drone.Delft Dynamics

Unveiled in 2017, Delft Dynamics’ Drone Catcher is a lightweight quadcopter drone with carbon fiber propellers and a top speed of 65 feet per second. The drone can stay aloft powered by an umbilical cord, keeping the drone’s internal batteries topped off until a hostile drone is spotted. A gimbal-mounted stabilized cameras give the drone operator a clear drone’s eye view.

The net is tethered to the Drone Catcher
Once a hostile drone is detected Drone Catcher races ahead and fires a gun at the target. Delft Dynamics

The gun is a pneumatically powered launcher that fires a net at the target. The net can ensnare targets at ranges of up to 66 feet, catching them in midair. The net is tethered to the Drone Catcher, which can then bring it back to operators for examination. If the captured drone is too heavy DroneCatcher can drop the net and target for later recovery.

Silent Archer

Robust anti-drone system Silent Archer on jeeps in the desert.
Another, more robust anti-drone system is Silent Archer. Silent Archer, in use by the U.S. Army, is designed to be installed on buildings or the Army’s new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.Silent Archer

The system uses multiple radars to detect an incoming drone or even swarm of drones. Silent Archer can then jam them, forcing them to return to where they came from or to perform an emergency landing. Alternatively, the system can hand off targeting data to weapons such as remote-controlled machine guns and light cannon.

Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System

Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System
The U.S. Marine Corps is trained and equipped to conduct lightning-fast invasions by air or sea. dvidshub.net

The Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System is designed to keep up with Marine Corps units in the field, protecting frontline units from armed and surveillance drones alike. The system consists of two Polaris MRZR all-terrain vehicles, one outfitted as a command and control vehicle and the other with a jammer designed to sever the control link between hostile drones and their operators.


Two Marines standing near military vehicle
In July 2019, a LMADIS system onboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Persian Gulf down a suspected Iranian-operated drone. dvidshub.net

The two MRZR vehicles that make up LMADIS were secured to the Boxer’s flight deck, giving them visibility in all directions and forming a protective barrier around the 847 foot long ship. After repeated calls to stand down the Marines fired up the system’s jammer, forcing the drone to plunge into the sea.

Howler

Raytheon’s Howler counter-unmanned aerial system takes the drone vs. drone system pioneered by Drone Catcher to a whole new level.
Raytheon’s Howler counter-unmanned aerial system takes the drone vs. drone system pioneered by Drone Catcher to a whole new level. Raytheon

Howler consists of a radar detection system and the Coyote drone. The Ku-band radar detects the incoming enemy drone and then launches a Coyote. The Coyote, armed with an explosive warhead, then intercepts and destroys the drone in midair. The system is currently in service with the U.S. Army, which has mounted it on trucks.

AUDS Counter Drone System

The AUDS Counter Drone System, developed by Liteye, is one of the longest range anti-drone weapons developed so far
The AUDS Counter Drone System, developed by Liteye, is one of the longest range anti-drone weapons developed so far. Blighter

Like other counter-drone weapons, it uses a radar to detect incoming drones. It then uses a “non-kinetic radio frequency inhibitor” likened to a drone “death ray” to jam the drone signal. Developed in the United Kingdom for military use, AUDS has an effective range of up to six miles, providing a wide umbrella of protection for friendly forces.

Stinger Missile

Stinger missile
The Stinger missile was first introduced in the 1980s as a low-altitude air defense system. dvidshub.net

A lightweight shoulder-fired system designed to engage enemy manned aircraft and helicopters, the Stinger has found new life as an anti-drone weapon. Although at $38,000 an expensive choice to shoot down a relatively inexpensive drone, Stinger will do the job when a cheaper solution isn’t available. Stinger has a 6 pound high explosive warhead and a range of about two miles.

Pantsir Air Defense System

High explosive drones
On the night of January 6th, 2018 a group of armed rebels launched a swarm of high explosive-armed suicide drones against Russian air force units at Syria’s Khmeimim Air Base. Getty Images

On the night of January 6th, 2018 a group of armed rebels launched a swarm of high explosive-armed suicide drones against Russian air force units at Syria’s Khmeimim Air Base. Russian forces fended off the attack with a combination of radio wave jamming and the Pantsir air defense system. Pantsir, originally designed to shoot down enemy manned aircraft and helicopters, is a truck-mounted system equipped with two 2A38M 30-millimeter automatic cannons and up to twelve surface-to-air missiles. Pantsir reportedly shot down seven drones, contributing to the lack of Russian losses in the attack.

LaWS

Laser Weapon System
In 2014, the Navy deployed the ex-amphibious ship USS Ponce to the Persian Gulf as a floating sea base for special operation forces. dvidshub.net

The Ponce was the first U.S. Navy ship to deploy an operational laser weapon, the Laser Weapon System (LaWS). Mounted in a turret on top of a shipping container, LaWS was a 30 kilowatt laser capable of detecting and downing hostile drones as well as frying out the motors of helicopters and small boats favored by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Patriot Missile

Patriot Missile Launcher at Hafetz Hayim in Israel
One of the most unlikely drone killers is the U.S. made Patriot surface-to-air missile. Getty Images

In March 2017, the U.S. government revealed that an ally--later revealed to be Israel--had used a Patriot missile to shoot down a small quadcopter drone. Patriot is a large, missile 17 feet long and three feet wide. It was originally designed to shoot down enemy aircraft but was later modified to also intercept cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. Israel apparently shot down two drones with Patriots, using a $3 million missile to shoot down what was likely a $200 drone.

Sayyad

A picture obtained from Iran's ISNA news agency shows an anti-missile system dubbed the Sayyad-2 (Hunter 2), during the inauguration of it's production line in Tehran on November 9, 2013.
On June 20th, 2019 Iranian air defense forces shot down one of the largest drones in the world, a U.S. Air Force RQ-4A Global Hawk. Getty Images

The Global Hawk, operating at a high altitude to keep tabs on Iranian military forces, was shot down by a Sayyad surface-to-air missile. The Sayyad was developed from the American 1970s-vintage SM-1 Standard missile, sold to Iran before the 1979 revolution. Launched from land, Sayyad is guided to target via radar, whereupon it detonates a blast fragmentation warhead.

MiG-29 Fighter Jet

Russian AirForce Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum performing a high-g pull up manoeuvre with condensation forming at the wing roots at the 1999 MAKS Airshow
One of the earliest examples of drone shootdowns was in 2008, shortly before the war between Russia and Georgia.Getty Images

A Georgian drone, conducting reconnaissance over the country’s airspace, was shot down by a Russian MiG-29 fighter jet. Although nearby Abkhazian separatists took credit for the downing video released by the Georgian government clearly showed a twin-engine MiG-29 lining up on the drone and firing a single air-to-air missile. The video feed from the drone abruptly ended moments later.

Eagle

Training an eagle’s predatory instincts, with the bird seeing a small drone as prey.
In September 2016 Dutch police began training eagles to take down small illegal drones. Getty Images

The birds of prey were described as a “low tech solution to a high tech problem” and tests were carried out over a period of eight months before the announcement. The training takes advantage of an eagle’s predatory instincts, with the bird seeing a small drone as prey. The eagles allowed the police to take down the drone instead of go looking for the drone operator.

A bald eagle named Hunter trained as a drone hunter.
The eagles were trained to grasp the drones with their claws and drag them to the ground. Getty Images

The birds were rewarded with pieces of meat after bringing down a drone during training. Animal rights groups initially opposed the measure on grounds it could injure the birds but the high speed rotors that power most quadcopter drones are too light to cause injury. The Dutch police originally trained a bald eagle named Hunter and purchased four sea eagle tricks to raise and train as drone hunters.

Retired drone eagles now living at a bird shelter.
The plan was to deploy the eagles wherever illegal drones were a problem, particularly near airports where rogue unmanned aerial vehicles could pose a risk to aircraft. Getty Images

Unfortunately the Dutch decided that training the birds was more expensive and complicated than anticipated, and that the birds were not doing what they were supposed to. The eagles were retired early to a bird shelter and the Dutch police were forced to go back to the drawing board.

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