Ankara, Turkey – How can Turkey neutralize Greek offensive capacity in the Aegean and Mediterranean? The latest wars in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan region, in which Turkish drones have played a key role, have justifiably, alarmed military analysts and leaders around the globe.
Although the threat was dramatic in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, it has been around for several years and we have had a taste of it in the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and Libya.
Thanks to advanced Turkish drones belonging to the Azerbaijani army, Azerbaijani losses at the front have shrunk. These smart aircraft show the strength of Turkey and that strengthens Azerbaijan.
Modern fighter jets are admittedly very expensive and the risk of death or capture of their pilots in the event of a crash is a concern. Tactical attack drones are a much cheaper and a more versatile tool, especially in small-scale battlefields, such as in Nagorno-Karabakh.
For countries with limited air power capabilities, drones provide a low-cost alternative to extending strike capabilities and providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
While most drones can perform tactical reconnaissance and transmit data and video to a ground station, or even launch missiles at targets, others can incorporate explosives, allowing them to crash into targets. These are known as “lodging” or “loitering ammunition”, or unofficially “kamikaze drones”.
Another use for drones is to detect the frequencies of enemy radars as they attempt to detect and trap drones. Frequency detection then allows aircraft to hit radars with anti-radar missiles, such as the AGM-88 HARM. The latter are in the arsenals of the Greek and Turkish Air Forces.
The main problem in fighting drones or UAVs is the detection of small and low flying targets. The current level of technology in the production of drones (use of plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber and foam synthetic material in their construction) can provide radar cross-section values from 0.1 to 0.005 m2. In addition, the use of economically low-power engines makes their flights almost silent, which also complicates the process of tracking, identifying and tracking the target.
Dealing with the threat posed by drones requires the development of measures to detect, monitor, identify, evaluate and make decisions. In practice, this means a wide range of different offensive and defensive approaches to strategies for destroying as many drones as possible to protect high-value targets.
Detection of small drones requires the use of sophisticated tools and equipment. They are used passively (radio frequency detectors, headphones, integrated opto-electronic means, anti-aircraft systems, optical surveillance positions), as well as active means (radar). There are various units of the armed forces with a mission to deal with drones, which perform separate tasks.
The detection of electronic equipment in drones and the determination of their operating frequencies is done by terrestrial electronic information systems. Electronic warfare units are responsible for locating and blocking enemy drones.
Artillery radars have the ability to detect them even if they are at a short distance from direct fire against the stations on the ground they control (GCS). Also, each military installation has security forces with communication and data transmission equipment and visual surveillance tools for detecting small-scale and low-contrast targets.
In other words, the staff is required to be vigilant and to observe the aerial environment closely. The first thing to deal with is the design of a command and control system (Command and Control – C2) with the ability to integrate information from all these systems to improve the overall interaction and exchange of information.
Such a system is responsible for monitoring whether a drone is identified as friendly or hostile, as well as reacting against a drone, based on the assessment of the threat level. There are several ways to prevent drone attacks, both destructive and non-destructive.
The most obvious is shooting. Various weapons can be used for this purpose. Thus, small light drones can be shot down with the help of light weapons and anti-aircraft artillery, while anti-aircraft missile systems can shoot down larger drones flying at higher altitudes.
State-of-the-art countries are developing electromagnetic weapons, microwaves, lasers, as well as advanced “conventional weapons” to destroy enemy drones. Characteristics of the US Air Force is testing in real conditions in Africa, a prototype microwave that breaks drones, called the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responsonder – THOR).
THOR uses high-power microwaves to “bake” drone electronics, shooting down swarms at short distances. If anti-aircraft lasers are like precision rifles, microwave weapons are like shotguns. Destroying an enemy drone is effective in preventing a blow, but it prevents the revelation of its mission.
Interception, however, does not have this disadvantage. Physical access to a “captured” drone gives the opportunity to reveal the intentions of the enemy. Interception can be “hard” or “soft”. “Hard” means a natural non-destructive effect on the enemy UAV to end up within our area of responsibility. The “soft” intercept uses cyber-electronic means to take control by interrupting the signal transmission, or by interfering with the control station on the ground.
As an alternative to disaster, suppressing a drone’s electronic systems can cause it to land or crash. Modern drones can perform some functions independently, but almost all of them are currently operated by a remote pilot whose commands are transmitted via radio frequencies.
Thus, suppressing control frequencies by electronic warfare can, at the very least, prevent the execution of hostile action. At present, it is not common practice to equip drones with a “smart” autopilot capable of taking control in the event of a signal loss with the instructions sent by the pilot.
In addition, the loss of communication with the pilot leads to the inability to transmit intelligence information, such as the video signal from the drone camera. In case of loss of communication with the pilot, some drones have an automatic return system in a designated area where it can land.
In this case the control system ignores all signals and moves to the specified area, using satellite navigation. In order to prevent the drone from escaping, the means of electronic warfare must suppress not only the control channel, but also the signals of the navigation system.
On the one hand, the low efficiency of missile defense systems against drones, and the high cost of anti-aircraft missiles require the development and implementation of special measures, both for their natural destruction and for the neutralization of information, control and armament systems may include:
Creation of special air defense units with various types of short-range portable or on-board missile systems and anti-aircraft guns. Upgrading (modernizing) existing anti-aircraft weapons to increase efficiency against small air targets.
Development of advanced anti-aircraft weapons for the purpose of detecting and shooting down small air targets. Development of specialized equipment for area saturation attacks, based on unconventional methods and new natural principles (non-kinetic energy). Military measures to deal with information and control systems to reduce the effectiveness of enemy drones.
In the military arms race there is a constant effort to develop a counter to any new weapon being introduced in the services. That is the reason for the highest levels of secrecy in the development testing phase of new weapon technologies and also, subsequently, in the development of a counter to that new technology. It holds good for developing a counter to the counter too.
The same analogy applies to the recent spectacular success of attack drones employed in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Is there a viable counter to attack drones? The answer is Yes and No. It is Yes, when nations earnestly endeavour to remain in Innovator or at least early adopters zone of military technology adoption lifecycle. It is No, when vested self interests of a powerful minority keep their nation deliberately in Laggards zone by deceptive manipulation.
Moore’s Law states that the processing power of electronic devices doubles every 18 months. Therefore by 2023, attack drones would have evolved to be much more miniaturized, have brilliant artificial intelligence fused with machine learning technologies on board. These would fly autonomously at much higher altitudes, have more endurance and capable of complex formation maneuvers.
They may also be armed with lethal precision munitions which could be made smaller and lighter and enable carriage of a larger number of these. Military leaders, in order to pursue offensive defense, have to stay ahead of emerging attack drone technologies and stay in front of adaptive enemies pursuing fast-expanding avenues of attacks.
Development of Counter Attack Drone Technology (CADT) is a mirroring of the long-standing aircraft/anti-aircraft development cycle. Not long ago the world saw a flurry of activity in developing lethal attack drones. Today, just as much, if not more effort, is going into developing CADT. Compounding the effectiveness issue is the fact that drone technology itself is not standing still. The market for CADT is growing exponentially for civilian, corporate and military use. Such potent criminal, espionage, destructive and disruptive usage has fueled growing market for CADT worldwide.
Available civilian counter drone technology is limited to guarding an area of about 1-2.5 kilometers as was recently employed by DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization) for VVIP protection. It primarily uses spotting techniques like Radio Frequency (RF) detection, Electro-Optical and Infrared sensors. After identification, intruding drone is neutralized with techniques like RF Jamming, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Jamming, Spoofing (sending false signals to the GPS receiver), Laser, nets, projectile or Combined Interdiction Elements. DroneCatcher, DroneGun, SkyWall, SkyDroner, SkyFence etc falls in this category of technology. However for military CADT, it is altogether a different level, scale and technology platform.
This new topic of CADT is divided into two primary areas: detection and tracking systems; and interdiction. The former includes radar, radio frequency (RF), electro-optical (EO), infrared (IR), acoustic and combined sensors. Interdiction includes jamming RF and GNSS, which includes GPS and GLONASS), spoofing, lasers, physical nets to entangle the target, projectiles, electromagnetic pulse (EMP), water projectors, “suicide” drones and combinations of those. Seeking to maintain a time and technology advantage over threat users, researchers and innovators essentially have stopped making public statements about CADT.
All the possible scenarios and available field experience/trials/tests dictate merging, analysis and organization of threat-specific sensor data – precisely presenting the kinds of predicaments artificial intelligence applications could perform for humans — at lightning speed. Ideally, machine learning technologies could receive and integrate previously unseen threat specifics of great relevance, merging them with existing data, performing near real-time analytics and rendering organized options for human commanders.
Precision renderings thus generated could quickly be fortified by electro-optical/infrared sensors, laser Interrupt Service Routine (ISR), acoustic applications or radio (RF) signals. Furthermore, attributes of one sensor can compensate for limitations of another, creating what military commanders describe as a “common operating” picture.
Since AMD (Air and Missile Defense) systems find difficult to detect, identify, and defeat Attack Drones, therefore “common operating” picture using a combined arms approach integrating extensive range of platforms in terms of size, velocity, range, altitude, flexibility and capability make though a very challenging mission but can be put in place with effective coordination.
CADT can be airborne, static or mobile ground-based or even sea-based. Combined with high-speed wireless networking, onboard data fusion, and AI, they can significantly increase the capabilities of CADT systems. Ever evolving tactics and strategies forced by research in perpetual motion places great stress on CADT effectors. Swarm attacks by small drones may precede the main Attack Drones offensive, to saturate and confuse CADT systems.
Availability of all time real time picture is essential for successful conduct of the campaign. Allied with this is counter-drone technologies pose potential risks to manned aircraft and to surveillance, navigation, and communications signals used by air traffic control. It also has to be ensured that countermeasures chosen do not become hindrance to ongoing or planned operations than the threat they are designed to stop.
The proliferation of CADT technology might even accelerate the development of technologies that will render CADT systems ineffective, particularly in military environments. Drones might be programmed to operate in patterns that make them difficult to detect, or rotors might be modified to dampen a drone’s engine noise so that it can evade acoustic detection.
Drones might be designed in such a way as to reduce their radar signature. Counter-laser systems could protect drones from directed-energy attacks. Only imagination will limit the use of deception measures in employment of drones. Finally, forces might seek to deploy drone swarms, which present a range of vexing technical challenges from a CADT perspective.
Another revolutionary technology is low-cost HALE (high altitude, long endurance). A HALE UAV offers wider coverage for an extended time during ISR missions, giving military commanders a greater chance of detecting and identifying hostile UAVs, sending back information in real-time to enable the employment of appropriate CADT measures.
Those range from guns and rockets to non-kinetic electronic signals to jam, spoof, destroy, or take over the target UAV’s navigation and control systems. One option under investigation, for example, would cause the UAV to return to its launch point, enabling authorities to locate and take appropriate action against adversary ground-control stations and personnel.
The data and information from HALE can be relayed in real time to CADT composite system. It comprises two mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicles, one carrying the DRS elevated mast-mounted surveillance and battlefield reconnaissance equipment (EO/IR sensors), the other a reconfigurable integrated-weapons platform, capable of firing a range of kinetic weapons, and a small air mine UAV. Can an AI infused attack drone fly nap-of-the-earth and escape detection or counter? Possible. Speed is the master of the game, not only is it fundamental to sensing and thwarting drone attacks, but research, development and production “speed” can bring much-needed technology to table.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a really key area in military technology. Turkey is making a strong push in AI, which is a great contribution in military technology. The US is still in the lead, but Turkey has made this a national priority, with large investments and a sharp focus. A nation which is one of the largest importers of military weapon systems and hardware cannot hope to become world or even regional power.