Modern Drone Threats and Detection Solutions

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.

Bears, Borders and Integrated Security Solutions

Did you hear the one about the bear that nearly caused a nuclear catastrophe?

It was in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A guard at Volk US Air Force Base – home to a number of armed nuclear bombers – spotted a shadowy figure apparently attempting to scale the fence. The supposed Soviet saboteur tripped the alarm, which was fatefully miswired, triggering a maneuver to scramble US interceptor jets to shoot down incoming enemy nuclear bombers. There were more American armed nuclear bombers already in the air nearby – the scene was set for a friendly fire incident of nuclear proportions.

Just before the jets took off, the command center realized what happened and sent orders to stand down. Crisis averted – just. Oh – and the Soviet saboteur that tried to sneak in? It turned out to be a curious bear.

With security technology having considerably advanced since 1962, we shouldn’t see a repeat episode like that anytime soon. Today we face different threats. Our fears of international state on state conflict have been eclipsed by the threat of international terrorism, and – though military security is always crucial – protecting borders has become one of the most pressing security needs of our time.

However, there are still lessons to be learned – safety and security are impossible without smart, integrated security solutions that can work in any weather, day or night. Two notable trends are helping organisations and security integrators shore up their defenses: advances in uncooled thermal imaging technology, and the move towards a security-solutions based approach.

The advance of uncooled thermal imagery

With conflict and other crises causing mass migration of refugees around the world, the importance of border security has leapt up several places on national leaders’ agendas.
When borders stretch across hundreds or thousands of kilometers of land and sea, it can be a very difficult and expensive task to secure them.

To answer the limitations of CCD day cameras, each is mounted in tandem with a thermal camera. The decision to use thermal then begs the question: cooled or uncooled cameras? Cooled cameras undisputedly give the best performance, offer unmatched distance visibility, and are more user-friendly than ever before. Whereas once a cooled camera would require a tank of cooling liquid nitrogen or similar substance, now electric systems – much like a fridge – keep the camera cool.

Uncooled thermal cameras, coupled with cutting edge analytics applied to the image data, are capable of covering huge distances like never before – up to fifteen kilometers away. This allows for fewer, cheaper, lower-maintenance cameras, hugely reducing the total cost of ownership when extrapolated across hundreds or thousands of kilometers.

When then taken by a system integrator and combined with other security equipment such as ground sensors, motion sensors and patrol cars, modern uncooled camera systems create a compelling holistic border security solution. And these systems would have revealed the Volk bear’s furry identity pretty quickly – avoiding a near disaster in the process.

Smart systems are integrated systems

But land and sea borders aren’t the only places countries need protection. Think about airports for a moment: some of the most security-conscious civilian transit sites in the world. They too, need efficient and cost-effective border security, and stand to benefit hugely from advanced uncooled thermal imagery solutions. They’re also a good illustration of why integrated security systems are vital. Following the tragic events of 9/11, the focus shifted to individual security – stopping the passage of dangerous individuals and items onto planes. However, in recent years we’ve seen terrorists resort to cruder, less easily managed methods of destruction, such as vehicular and lone gunman attacks.

The challenge for system integrators is to deliver systems that handle a range of threats. To that end, it’s imperative that thermal cameras, CCTV cameras, radar, motion sensors – everything – are linked to a control terminal, informing and updating security personnel and creating a comprehensive picture of the security network in real time.

System integrators have more choice than ever before when it comes to building these integrated solutions. In fact, rather than sourcing individual components from individual manufacturers and agonizing over esoteric operating systems and protocols when trying to link them, they can now choose from complete, integrated, interoperable security solutions, making life infinitely easier.

Today, these two trends of advanced uncooled cameras and the easy integration of multiple systems, allow system integrators to build powerful connected systems to keep us all safe. After all, there are much more dangerous things out there than curious bears.