Jamming Or Direct-Kill: Israeli Companies At The Forefront In Countering Growing Drone Threat
When the State Comptroller published his report on the potential security threats posed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) on November 15, he touched on an issue that has been troubling the global defense industry for some time. The rise in availability, as well as the decline in the price of UAVs is ushering in a new era of potential threats, be they threats to privacy or to secrecy of sensitive sites posed by camera bearing UAVs, or those posed by the potential weaponization of the small flying machines, which can be obtained for as little as $75.
Some of the scenarios in the report were based on actual instances where drones purchased online were used by the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah in order to cross the border into Israel and gather aerial photo intel of IDF operations and deployment, while some were hypothetical scenarios of civilian UAVS being modified with weapons or explosives in order to carry out remote controlled Kamikaze attacks. A chillingly realistic scenario thought up in the report saw the use of a remote-controlled drone to target the engine of a commercial flight above Ben Gurion airport.
In recent instances in which UAVs have violated Israeli airspace on intel gathering missions, the IDF has used the Patriot missile system in order to shoot them down, although not always successfully. In July of 2016, the IDF fired two Patriot missiles at a spy drone, which had crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria. Both missiles missed their target and the UAVs returned safely to Syrian airspace.
The fact that the anti-missile system was not designed for UAVs, combined with the $3 million per missile price tag, leaves the improvised solution lacking behind possible alternatives.
Enter the Israeli defense industry, which has been scrambling to become a world leader in countering the UAV threat. Firms such as Elbit, Rafael and Orad have developed several different solutions to meet the growing global demand for anti-UAV measures.
Elbit’s ReDrone system, revealed in November 2016, is designed to automatically identify, track and jam drones that have entered sensitive or restricted airspace illegally. The ReDrone system uses signal jammers in order to disrupt the drone’s electronics, as opposed to more primitive systems such as the Patriot and the Iron Dome, which rely on physical interception of potential threats. According to Elbit, “after detecting a target, the ReDrone system disrupts the drone’s communication with its operator, blocks its radio and video signals and GPS positioning data, and sends it off track, preventing it from carrying out an attack.”
Holon based Orad has developed a similar system for detecting and neutralizing UAVs, but as opposed to Elbit’s ReDrone system, which focuses on jamming the radio signal controlling the UAV, essentially paralyzing it, Orad’s DROM Drone Defense System can detect UAVs from a range of 3.5 Kilometers, and not only jam the signal controlling them, but also “take over” control of the UAV and direct it to land in a predetermined safe zone, minimizing the risk of collateral damage posed by a weaponized UAVs crashing as a result of signal jamming. Orad claims its system is the most cost-effective solution on the market, and has sold its systems to clients in Portugal, Spain and Thailand.
While signal jamming seems to be the go-to interception method, it does have it’s drawbacks – the main one being the fact that UAV manufacturers are now working harder to make their drones “jamming proof”, with some even developing auto-pilot systems set to take over in the event of a signal jam, and fly the UAV back safely to its place of deployment.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the firm behind the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, has a solution to that problem. As opposed to Elbit’s and Orad’s solutions, Rafael’s Drone Dome system does not focus on signal jamming but takes a more analog approach instead. After detecting an approaching threat, the Drone Dome locks onto it and sends a searing hot beam of concentrated light at it, causing the UAV’s inner circuits to fry, while triggering any possible on-board explosives in mid-air. Rafael’s solution may very well be the most future proof one, being immune to any counter measures developed by UAV manufacturers in order to protect the UAV’s radio signals.
Aside from Rafael, America’s Boeing is the only other defense firm developing “direct-kill” anti-UAV countermeasures, with the rest of the world’s leading firms taking Elbit’s and Orad’s signal jamming approach.
The lack of widespread competition, along with the prestige gained by the world famous Iron Dome system may very well position Rafael to be a world leader in these new and so far uncharted waters.