The Asia Pacific industry has ‘changed up gears’ in providing solutions to counter UAS threats.
The proliferation of affordable and readily available small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, has presented significant challenges for military and homeland security organisations in the Asia Pacific region to overcome in recent years. Such low and slow-flying devices prove difficult to detect by conventional air surveillance systems as well as traditional countermeasures.
There is growing concern among regional governments that weaponised hobby drones costing just few hundred dollars off-the-shelf but modified with explosives could enable lone wolf terrorists and groups, and even rival states, to attack high-value targets such as airports and military facilities and even disrupt key commercial and military operations.
Examples are already available: Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq used small UASs to conduct strikes against the Iraqi prime minister’s residence and the US Embassy in Baghdad in 2021, while a suspected UAS attack on an Israel-linked product tanker near the Omani coast in the Arabian Sea killed two of the crew. Subsequent attacks on Baghdad airport and military facilities were also mounted in early January 2022 and a combined missile/UAS attack was reported in mid-January near Abu Dhabi airport in the United Arab Emirates.
Cognisant of the growing UAS threat in both land and maritime domains, regional companies are developing new solutions to meet the growing demand from military and homeland security organisations for effective countermeasures.
Australia: DroneShield and EOS Defence
Australia’s DroneShield is looking to ride on its multiple successes in 2021 to push its latest DroneSentry-X 360 degree automated detect and soft-kill defeat system, which is designed for real-time, on-the-move operations aboard land and maritime platforms.
DroneSentry-X takes the form of a ruggedised and IP67-rated (sand, dust and water resistant) 56.6lb (25.7kg) pod with a compact footprint of just 634x634x232mm, which can be mounted on the topside of the platform with the included digital control panel and display installed within the vehicle for operator access. It can also be deployed at a fixed site as a temporary static solution with in-situ or remote operation.
DroneShield did not disclose performance specifications of the DroneSentry-X, although it indicated that an earlier version of the system could detect and disrupt UAS operating on consumer and commercial ISM frequencies at ranges of at least two kilometres and 300 metres, respectively.
The company, which has also expanded into areas such as signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare (EW) earlier launched its first fully Artificial Intelligence Machine Learning (AI/ML)-based software to its customers in February 2021 as part of its quarterly software update programme.
The new software, called DroneOptID and RfAI, is designed to offer near real-time detection and identification of signals of interest along with other potential EW threats. According to DroneShield, the software employs proprietary algorithms that can learn from previously encountered threat signatures and is capable of determining whether an unknown UAS is a threat (including an assessment of its observed payload), with the net effect of reducing false positives as well as speeding up the threat detection, classification, and disruption cycle.
In July 2021, DroneShield deployed a DroneSentry-X with the RfAI software update on the US Navy’s (USN’s) stealthy M80 Stiletto technology testbed for a six-week exercise and extended demonstration. It “successfully [completed] a wide range of performance and evaluation metrics” that assessed overall detection capability, detection and defeat ranges, on-the-move operation in various sea states, and effectiveness against UAS swarms involving a range of robotic and unmanned threats.
“C-UAS [development] is a long-term game,” DroneShield CEO Oleg Vornik told AMR. “We are the original pioneer in this space, having started seven years ago before C-UAS was ‘cool’.”
“Similarly, we started applying AI and ML in the C-UAS sector before they too became a major trend,” noted Vornik, adding that the company believes that success within this space requires substantial and continued capability investments and engineering over time.
“We are the original creator of the DroneGun concept back when it was not obvious that a jammer could come in a gun or pistol [form-factor] and we do field-programmable gate array (FPGA) design that makes our UAS detection and defeat software highly tailored and efficient,” he explained. “We created our patented antennas and we invest substantial resource in marketing to end customers and building integrator relationships in about 100 countries globally.”
For example, DroneShield revealed a new and improved version of its DroneCannon fixed-site C-UAS system – the DroneCannon MKII – in March 2021, which it claims to be substantially lighter and smaller than the earlier model. It is understood that the weight savings was achieved through the improvement of its antenna design, which reduced its footprint without impacting original performance.
“2021 has been a challenging year, but we used it well to lay a lot of groundwork in terms of product refinement and initial customer deployments. Despite the challenges, we tripled our cash receipts over [the previous year],” said Vornik.
“Looking into 2022, we believe we are on the precipice of several major acquisition programmes, and excited about the next phase of growth,” he added, noting that while the company is continuing to increase its business with Australian and US military and government customers, the Asia Pacific region has also provided favourable outcomes with existing deployments and relationships in countries such as Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand.
Meanwhile, the Canberra-based EOS Defence has adopted a different approach to C-UAS operations with its scalable Titanis system which integrates detection, command-and-control (C2), and layered defeat capabilities including soft- and hard-kill and directed-energy effectors, to acquire, track, and engage individual or swarming Group 1, 2 and 3-class UAS threats at effective ranges out to 4,000m.
According to EOS Defence, Titanis is based on a suite of networked EOS R-series remote weapon stations (RWS) and can defeat a single UAS within eight seconds of detection, even if the aircraft is not being controlled by radio frequency (RF) signals that render it vulnerable to jamming.
Titanis initially locates and tracks one or more UAS using a software-defined, 4D, active electronically scanned-array (AESA) pulse Doppler radar with a range of about 10,000 m, as well as passive radio frequency (RF) detection and day- and thermal imagery augmented by advanced video analytics and a laser rangefinder at ranges out to 4,700 m before engaging an RF jammer to engage aircraft deemed hostile.
“If unsuccessful, Titanis will switch to hard-kill mode and an EOS-manufactured 35 kW laser will engage targets out to 4,000m, with high rates of target engagement capable of defeating a swarm attack,” the company stated. “The laser will eventually be upgraded to 55kW.”
At shorter ranges, Titanis can bring into play other networked ballistic effectors such as the 30mm Mk44S Bushmaster cannon mounted on the R800 RWS firing programmable airburst munitions out to 3,000m, as well as the 30mm M230LF chain gun and the 7.62mm Dillon Aero mini-gun mounted on the R400 RWS.
Titanis was launched in June 2021 at the Land Forces Pacific exhibition in Brisbane, with the company noting at that time that development work comprised validating tracking algorithms and sensor fusion capabilities.
EOS Defence has also revealed that it is developing a directed-energy capable variant of its T2000 modular medium-calibre turret aimed at addressing the growing threat of top attack loitering munitions and weaponised UAS to armoured combat platforms. Called the T2000-DE, the new turret features a comparable 35 kW-class directed-energy effector integrated to its roof that can traverse a full 360° in the azimuth and more than 0° to 90° in elevation, can ‘blind’ the EO/IR sensors on UAS and loitering weapon systems with a view of the battlefield at ranges out to 10km, and physically degrade or destroy those threats with the laser at ranges “beyond 2000m”.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) has on several occasions demonstrated its interest in fielding a variety of portable C-UAS systems.
Footage from state-owned outlet China Central Television (CCTV) showed air defence components attached to the PLAGF’s 73rd and 80th group armies operating undisclosed types of handheld RF jammers to counter commercially available UAS during separate manoeuvres in northwestern China.
Personnel from the 73rd Group Army were seen deploying at least two rifle-like RF jammers with a EW module affixed to the 12 o’clock rail alongside a sight, as well as net launchers alongside the jammers. In contrast, the 80th Group Army utilised rifle-like disrupters featuring what appear to be RF detection and jamming arrays on the 3, 9, and 12 o’clock rail positions. PLAGF personnel interviewed by CCTV noted that the handheld systems enabled them to defeat hostile UAS within their line-of-sight through broadband jamming by triggering their automatic return home or landing protocols before they flew close enough to damage ground assets or wound dismounted troops with simulated explosives.
State-owned defence companies have also taken the opportunity at recent Airshow China exhibitions in Zhuhai to unveil a range of indigenously developed C-UAS systems. In September 2021, the 28th Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) revealed its new Sky Dome Integrated C-UAS suite aimed at military force protection applications.
According to chief engineer Sun Yishen, the Sky Dome adopts a flexible and multi-layered architecture that enables the customer to integrate a wide variety of radar detectors, soft- and hard-kill effectors, as well as optoelectronic and command-and-control systems. The company claims that the networked system can also support emerging directed-energy effectors, which can complement other soft-kill techniques such as RF jamming to engage UAS swarms.
A potential candidate for integration is the road-mobile LW-30 laser system being developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), which is designed to engage precision-guided munitions and low-flying aircraft including UAS. The system is based on a six-wheeled tactical truck that features a roof-mounted remote turret armed with a 30 kW-class directed-energy effector.
A typical LW-30 unit is understood to comprise a radar-equipped command and control (C2) vehicle for battlefield control and communications, a logistical support vehicle, as well as one or more effector vehicles.
Singapore: ST Engineering C-UAS RWS and TRD Orion
Singapore’s ST Engineering earlier highlighted a C-UAS concept understood to be an in-house project to demonstrate its ability to integrate soft- and hard-kill effectors into a version of its Adder RWS. The RWS, which was not named, combines a compact radar and an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) suite with a pair of grenade launchers, with the example it displayed understood to be equipped with the Rippel Effect MGL6 low-velocity multi-shot grenade launcher (MGL) featuring a six-round drum magazine.
The MGLs are stowed under replaceable shrouds that pivot forward to enable access for loading or servicing the MGLs. Alternatively, the RWS can be equipped with the high-velocity XRGL40 six-shot grenade launcher or 5.56mm and 7.62mm machine guns. The effective range for high velocity 40 mm grenades was quoted as 1,400m while low velocity grenades offer a stated effectiveness out to 300m.
Target acquisition and tracking is assisted by an undisclosed type of radar sensor that is optimised for tracking low-flying aerial targets and provides targeting cues that augment visual data provided by the RWS’ EO/IR suite for improved depth perception and targeting accuracy.
Soft- and hard-kill effects can be achieved using ST Engineering’s range of 40mm grenades, which includes a programmable C-UAS round – measuring an overall length of 125mm and weighing around 243g – that has been specifically designed to defeat small, commercially available multirotor UAS.
The C-UAS grenade carries a payload of metal strips or streamers, which is delivered into the flight path of the UAS and disable its propellers via entanglement, forcing it to crash. A typical package comprises the 40mm C-UAS grenade and a programming unit, which pre-sets the fuze electronically to detonate the grenade close to the target. The programming unit can also be used with hard-kill 40 mm grenades such as its low- and high-velocity air bursting munition system.
Launched at a muzzle velocity of 100m/s, the grenade has a stated maximum range of 600m, although the typical engagement range is around 200-300m given the potential challenges of targeting small UAS at longer distances. It is also designed to compatible with a wide range of grenade launchers on the market, including the STK 40GL, HK69A1, M203, M79, AG36, MK13, M32A1, and Rippel Effect MGLs.
AMR understands that the RWS operator would usually launch a burst of three to four grenades with guidance from the radar to detonate at precise intervals to saturate a wider area with streamers for increased hit probability.
Finally, the privately owned TRD Singapore has developed the handheld Orion H+ lightweight C-UAS device, an IP65-rated ruggedised system that weighs less than 7kg including its battery. The Orion H+ is an improvement of the company’s first handheld jammer, the three-band Orion H.
The company claims that the Orion H+ is the first of its type in the world to be capable of disrupting up to six RF bands – 433MHz, 915MHz, 2.4GHz, 5.8GHz – as well as other specified global navigation satellite system (GNSS) frequencies – such as Beidou, GLONASS, and GPS – at ranges of up to 1,000m depending on the type of UAS being intercepted.
An organic LED (OLED) digital display provides the user with real-time data on system performance, battery runtime, and temperature. An integrated north finder and GPS – which the company claims to be another first – enhances user situational awareness, while also enabling the system to record the exact co-ordinates of locations where it had been activated. It can also perform self-diagnostics with an integral build-in test (BIT) capability.
According to TRD, the Orion H system has been delivered to customers from over 10 countries in the Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East. In particular, it sold 18 systems to the Philippine Army following the results of a competitive tender released in June 2019. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has also emerged as an operator of the system, with at least one example showcased in an official video engaging a UAS threat to one of its airbases.
by Jr Ng