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Drone Threats in the Modern World


4 mins


Opgal staff writers

published published

June 04, 2017



The drone market is booming

According to a 2016 report, revenues from drone sales are expected to top $12 billion by 2021. Shipments of consumer drones are expected to more than quadruple over the next five years, while the military sector will continue to lead all other sectors in drone spending. Drones or UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) have become a part of everything, and are now in the news on a daily basis, from terrorist activities, to issues over restricted airspace. The list of applications is virtually endless, and includes hunting poachers, perimeter security, aiding firefighters, building diagnostics, surveillance, counter-terrorism, and more.

New technology means new threats

The models on the market now are small and getting smaller, and they can go anywhere. They are also more available, and more affordable than ever before. While the continual development of new technologies provides more versatile capabilities for defense and civilian applications, it also creates new possibilities for terrorist organizations. Some terrorist groups are taking advantage of these capabilities, using drones to achieve their objectives. As the technology advances, so too will the range of commercially available drones, facilitating greater standoff distances and decreasing the likelihood of detection of the drone operator.

With great distribution comes great risk

Drones with the ability to deliver a payload can now be purchased by anyone for a few hundred US dollars. ISIS, for example, is using plastic commercial drones to drop grenades on military and civilian targets, and to monitor enemy troop movements, while their propaganda videos encourage drone attacks worldwide. Event organizers and security teams need to be prepared for a variety of different scenarios, with new threats evolving all the time. The greatest fear is what would happen if a terrorist organization used drone technology to attack a major public event or other place where people gather. These risks are unacceptable and require a comprehensive solution. We need to be able to protect our military bases, nuclear facilities, prisons, transportation hubs, and public events from weaponized drones.

How do we protect valuable assets against these threats?

Because they have become so small and so cheap, UAV’s are now a fact of life, and must be taken into consideration when building your event or perimeter security plan. The list of “anti-drone” solutions is almost as long as the list of uses for drones, and includes net firing “drone-catcher” drones, guns, lasers, missiles, jamming viruses to drop them out of the air, software to take control, operator location… and many more. If there is one problem that most of these solutions share, it is that they all rely on accurate threat detection in order to have a chance at success. But how do you detect something as small as a plastic consumer drone? Small and fast, some are even virtually undetectable in daylight. Without detection, all these other solutions will be ineffective. From this we see that detection solutions are at the core of any drone threat response system. Without detection, the effectiveness of any solution will be limited.

A range of detection solutions

Current detection options for drones include radar, acoustic detection, and thermal imaging. These solutions range in effectiveness based on a number of conditions. When we consider the fact that drones are not limited by daylight and can also operate at night, we begin to understand that any solution to successfully protect against drone attacks will require the ability to detect drones at night, even in complete darkness. Counter measures need to include a comprehensive security plan that includes technology capable of answering this threat. Nighttime vision solutions are limited, and include traditional night vision, infrared (IR or “thermal imaging”) cameras, and near infrared cameras.

Thermal imaging is not night vision

Like near IR cameras, night vision goggles and scopes see visible light, like your eyes, and make images from enhancing or adding visible light to the region of interest. Thermal cameras on the other hand, “see” heat, not light. The more heat an object gives off, the more thermal contrast it generates, and the easier it is to see. Because of this, thermal imaging even functions in zero-light conditions. It also has extreme long-range capabilities, making it ideal for drone detection. Thermal security and surveillance cameras and systems are therefore an excellent solution for drone detection, and can even be paired with other sensors to increase effectiveness. The only drawback of this method is that thermal cameras cannot fly, and when answering a threat, it’s always helpful to be able to meet on level ground.

Enter drones with thermal cameras

Thermal cameras, as well as a variety of other kinds of sensors, can be paired with drones, creating a world of possible applications, as well as providing a solution to this problem. Our drone integration project involves an open-based core that can be integrated with both civilian and military systems to create a formidable thermal “drone-detecting” drone. Because of their cost, speed, and versatility, drones that have been outfitted with thermal imaging devices may in fact be the best initial defense against terrorist drone threats. In an environment with rapidly increasing capabilities for drone integrated sensors, governments need to stay several moves ahead. Including thermal imaging solutions as part of your arsenal is one surefire way to do so.