Ahead of Countering Drones 2019, Richard Lawrence, Sales and Marketing Manager at Aveillant, sat down with Defence IQ to discuss the development of counter-drone solutions. In this interview, he explains the threat drones pose to public safety, what makes the detection and tracking of small drones so difficult in congested airspaces, the role and challenges of industry in developing counter-drone solutions, and which sector he sees as the main driver for the need of counter-drone solutions.



How would you rate the current threat that drones pose to public safety?

Let’s be clear, drones fulfill an important role and are effective in a wide range of applications such as inspection, survey, media capture and, in future, delivery services. When used in a cooperative, managed environment, I expect drones will be integrated safely into the lower airspace and that conflicts with current transport modes will be minimised so the threat to public safety will be negligible.

In the wider context of aviation however, there is a very real threat to flight safety. There have been a number of examples where the proximity of drones to commercial aircraft has compromised flight safety and I’m sure many people will have seen film clips of such events.

Although the CAA tightened the regulations in March 2019 by introducing Flight Restriction Zones (FRZ) there are still regular incursions either through drone systems failure, operator ignorance or willful disobedience. As drone use continues to grow, the number of potential conflicts between drones and aircraft will inevitably increase, making it vital for airport operations staff and ATC to have timely, accurate information on drone flights to improve situational awareness and enable safe decision-making.

What makes the detection and tracking of small drones so difficult in congested airspaces, such as airports, stadiums, prisons, CNI etc.? How can industry overcome these challenges to efficiently protect civilian and governmental infrastructure?

Traditional ATC radar is designed to detect large targets at relatively long range. Drones are often too small for these systems to detect or separate from the background clutter so they are effectively invisible.

As well as being small, drones tend to fly relatively slowly, at low altitudes and may have erratic and unpredictable flight paths. These factors compound the difficulty for traditional radar to detect drones or differentiate them from avian targets.

Unlike other traffic in controlled airspace, drones are rarely equipped to report their altitude so even if they were visible to ATC radar, there would be no reliable way to establish safe vertical separation.

In an urban environment, reflected energy from buildings and other structures produces high levels of static clutter which can overwhelm the sensitive receivers in a radar, making it very difficult to detect small targets. The radar shadow created by buildings also compromises the field of view effectively masking activity.

Industry has worked hard to solve these problems and the most effective solution to the problem of protecting infrastructure is to deploy a system of sensors which may include radar, RF detectors and cameras, all feeding into a command system to provide situational awareness to an operator.

Rarely will a single sensor provide a broad enough detection capability alone, so users need to be thinking in terms of this system approach and develop a Concept of Operation to make effective use of the sensor outputs. Other solutions such as acoustic sensors tend to have a short range and performance may be adversely affected by ambient noise levels at an airport or public gathering.

Which sector do you see as the current main driver for the need for counter-drone solutions?

In the UK and Europe, the aviation sector is driving most of the current interest with flight safety a key consideration. Elsewhere, military applications and critical infrastructure protection are gaining traction as the scope of the potential drone threat continues to evolve.

Increasingly, governments are looking at CUAS applications to protect major events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games where the threat posed by malicious drone activity is increasingly brought into focus by recent attacks like those in Venezuela and Yemen.

Are there any legislative or regulatory obstacles industry faces when creating counter-drone solutions?

The legislative landscape is different in every country but tends to be quite complex where it comes to countering drones. Certainly, here in the UK drones are protected by current legislation in the Air Navigation Order, making it an offence to interfere with a drone in flight. This precludes the use of jammers or defeat mechanisms designed to interrupt the flight and bring the drone to the ground.

Government needs to adopt a consistent approach to establish legislation to enable the police and security services to take effective action in defeating a drone threat without themselves falling foul of the law.

Aveillant is partnering with the Countering Drones Global conference for the second year in a row. What made Aveillant decide to come back and partner once more? Is there any topic you look forward to hearing from this year?

We are seeing an increasing level of interest in the ability to detect, track and identify small drones and differentiate them against clutter and from other targets, which is what our Gamekeeper radar does exceptionally well.

The Countering Drones Global conference presents a great opportunity for us to gauge current thinking on the drone threat and understand what potential users are looking for as they develop their requirements.

I am particularly interested to hear from those in the aviation industry about their recent experiences with drone incursions and how their mitigation plans have developed over the last year, particularly in light of the events of Christmas 2018.

Aveillant will be present at this countering drones 2019. CEO, Dominic Walker will participate in a panel discussion on addressing the unique challenges of countering drones at airports. Check out the full details of the event here.