Knowledge Base: How technology can help combat the emerging drone threat facing the US

Jeffrey Tipton, MARSS Business Development Manager for Defense in the US, looks at the increasing challenges posed by UAS threats and considers how a more agile and cooperative approach is needed to transform US defense policy.

Ever since the attacks on Pearl Harbor, American air dominance at home has rarely been in doubt. America is one of the leading nations in air defense technology, however recent debates question whether this will sustain overseas, and whether the US could be vulnerable at home against airborne threats.

The recent mass proliferation of hobbyist and private drones is completely changing this debate within security and government circles, as now, for the first time since WW2, the American military no longer has complete control over its skies.

So why is the US Government becoming increasingly worried about this emerging threat from Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)? 

A new technology race

The level of UAS technology available to hostile forces and individuals is growing rapidly – as is the range of potential users. Small to medium drones are readily available to hobbyists and simple to weaponize. Class two drones, which can run for hours and reach speeds of hundreds of mph, can be purchased online alongside specialized GPS systems and anti-jamming equipment, providing the means to build larger and more threatening systems.

Considering state actors, larger drones are similarly proving more popular than ever. These are being used to destroy critical state infrastructure, or simply as weapons of terror to civilian populations. As these systems become quicker and cheaper to build, and their reliability and sophistication continues to improve, the volume of attacks is increasing worldwide. 

In the Middle East, this threat is already well recognized. January’s drone attack on an oil storage site near the Abu Dhabi airport killed three people and left flames billowing for hours. This attack proved a wake-up call to security services.

More recently, conflicts in Eastern Europe have brought the use of drones to mainstream US Media. While these all feel far from home, in truth, American domestic events such as large sporting events or political functions – are increasingly vulnerable to similar attacks, from terrorist and lone wolf actors.

A technology driven approach

Security services are in a race to ensure that UAS counter measures get ahead of these developments. Conventional strategies, of using expensive missiles to shoot down much cheaper UAS, certainly has economic and collateral limitations. 

Fundamentally, superior technology is the only way to guard against UAS threats and to protect lives. We therefore need to rethink the way security is procured, with large defense companies currently locked into lengthy development and procurement cycles, making it difficult to be responsive while also penalizing innovation. 

In 2019, America’s six biggest defense contractors spent on average just 2.5 per cent of their sales on research and development each year. This has to change.

Instead, developers must be free to respond with speed and agility to changing circumstances and needs. Smaller businesses, with fewer constraints and the ability to focus their research and development on very specific threats, can help the industry in this respect. 

Another factor that can obstruct progress, is the bias of some companies toward selling only their own hardware. Developers need to have the flexibility to draw on best of breed manufacturers and partners for the most suitable equipment, products and systems to best serve each solution. Specialisms in system integration, software and command and control technology are crucial to bringing all the elements together quickly and effectively.

When choosing a counter-UAS system to meet the latest and upcoming UAS threats, buyers should question its stage of evolution. Not all systems on the market have actually been operationally deployed. Even fewer have been operationally proven. These are important differences.  The MARSS NiDAR system is deployed and tactically proven worldwide with its sensor fusion and full countermeasure menu.

Surveillance and intelligence

At MARSS, we offer a counter-UAS surveillance and intelligence platform. Filling a previously vulnerable gap in defense, we are leaders in the future of defending the US and forward deployed formations from emerging threats. 

At its heart, MARSS is a technology company, specializing for 15 years in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in civilian and defense applications. With MARSS NiDAR, we have developed a modular, scalable, intelligent system, which can integrate with existing sensors and equipment across multiple locations, urban, rural, remote or hostile. Whether fixed or vehicle-based, at home or abroad on forward operations, it can be supplied as a complete, ready to operate, solution meeting every need or integrated within the customer’s larger command center.

A further benefit of NiDAR CORE’s fusion of machine learning and traditional algorithms, is that it can differentiate between a potential threat and non-threat, resulting in massively reduced false alerts to operators. This leaves them free to focus only on choosing the most appropriate response to potential threats, without background noise from non-threats.

In addition to being intelligent behind the scenes, the NiDAR user interface is highly intuitive, fusing a myriad of sensors and responses in a way that is easy to understand, meaning it could be operated by a civilian as well as a military crew, via touch screen, with minimal training, without compromise.

UAS interception – going one step further

The latest counter measure from MARSS is the AI-enabled autonomous Interceptor. Integrated with the NiDAR surveillance and intelligence platform, Interceptor is capable of reaching speeds of around 80m/s, destroying UAS head on, permanently disabling CAT 1 and CAT 2 UAS at a much lower cost per defeat than most alternative kinetic systems. Physically damaging the target without the use of a warhead, it minimizes collateral damage and makes it safer for use around urban locations and public events.

Cooperation to stay ahead

Rather than responding reactively to each new challenge posed by malicious users of evolving UAS technology, as an industry we need to be proactive. To keep at least one step ahead of them, our defense systems need to evolve more rapidly. As MARSS has demonstrated, this is easier and faster to achieve when we work in partnership rather than competition.

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