NATO and industries test new counter drone systems, eye new standard
DE PEEL, THE NETHERLANDS – A few dozen companies from across NATO countries and partners have come together to address the growing threat to the alliance – the use of drones to hit military and infrastructure targets – as demonstrated by the events in Ukraine.
At Lieutenant General Best Barracks, more than a hundred people sit behind computers in the command and control room facing a large screen in front of them.
Their aim is to come up with a response to the use of drones, regardless of their size, speed, and technologies. They represent 57 companies across NATO countries and partners, including Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium and Israel.
In the medium to long term, NATO members want to be able to integrate counter-drone techniques into their war and battle strategies, just like any other weapons.
NATO’s Communications and Information Agency (NCIA), the alliance’s innovation and tech branch, and industries are working to establish the first-ever interoperability standard for counter-drone tactics likely to be adopted this autumn.
The interoperability standards are crucial in giving the industry guidelines to manufacture their equipment and to military allies whose equipment works together for smoother cooperation on the battlefield, with compatible communication systems and protocols.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has demonstrated that drones significantly impact the ground regarding surveillance, aid deliveries, or attacks against an invading enemy.
“The current developments are being evaluated, and we see how drones are being used in the brutal war of Russia against Ukraine,” where drones of every size and purpose multiply, said Brigadier General Hans Folmer, chief of staff at NCIA.
Already, “small drones pose a large threat to NATO and our operations,” he added.
For a month, they established their headquarters close to Eindhoven, in the south of the Netherlands, where on empty runways and large airfields, NATO has brought together these competitors, their equipment, knowledge and people to practice interoperability of different counter-drone technologies: nets, jammers, cyber-takeover and felling.
Nets, jammers and cyber-takeovers
Out on the airfield in the Dutch countryside, a flying drone has captured a second ‘enemy drone’ with a net.
The interception is semi-autonomous. This way, even if it must have ‘a man in the loop’ to match European standards, the drone can follow its mission, from taking off to bringing the intercepted hostile drone to a safe place.
Other tactics are more subtle. Drone jamming and cyber takeovers are almost invisible to the untrained eye.
Drone jamming focuses on sending a strong signal, similar to ‘loud noise’ towards the enemy drone. The noise disturbs the hostile drone and causes its operator to lose control, forcing it to return home.
Jammers have been part of Ukraine’s tactics against the horde of Russian-controlled drones attacking and surveilling Kyiv’s lines. NATO countries have donated some as part of military support.
The more invasive cyber takeover tactic shows how one can take control of another drone and use it as one of their own.
Those techniques may work best to catch and control smaller drones, but there’s nothing more impactful than a ‘kinetic’ interception to defend oneself against larger drones, such as the large and fast Shahed Iranian drone used by Russia to bomb Ukraine.
Even though drones would see a largely military application, counter-drone techniques could also be used around civilian zones, as “key infrastructures (…) on which we depend every day, that are vulnerable” can also be targeted, Matt Roper, NCIA’s Chief of Joint Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance, said.
This would include airports, considering recent incidents around Gatwick and Schiphol, water processing plants, and power stations.
“They all ultimately require to be defended and protected against those that might do us harm,” Roper said.