Air Defense: UAVs and AUDs


July 15, 2023: India has long been an enthusiastic user of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). So have India’s enemies, especially Pakistan-backed Islamic terrorists who operate from the Pakistani side of the border in northwest India. This combat zone of Kashmir and the border area is heavily defended by both sides. This led to both sides eventually using various types of UAVs to patrol this border, and occasionally briefly cross the border. The most frequent and aggressive border activity is by Pakistan in support of allegedly non-Pakistani Islamic terrorists based in Pakistan who are officially allowed to attack Indian-held Kashmir. These UAVs are used to assist Islamic terrorists to cross the heavily defended border and reach the Indian side undetected. Larger quadcopters are also used to transport small quantities of supplies across the border from Pakistan to India. This is nothing new, drug smugglers have been caught using quadcopters to get drugs across the Mexican border into the United States or criminals using quadcopters to smuggle contraband into prisons. Quadcopters carrying explosives have been used as weapons, most recently by Ukrainians against Russians. India responded to the Pakistani quadcopter threat by developing an AUD (Anti UAV Defense) that uses an electronic system to detect quadcopters and then disrupt their navigation systems.

The military and intelligence threats posed by the proliferating use of commercial UAVs, particularly quadcopters, have led to the development of more AUD systems. Ukraine recently began receiving a novel new AUD system called Vampire. This system is palletized - all components are secured on a shipping pallet that can be mounted in a light truck, and consists of a telescoping mast mounting an electro-optical/infrared modular sensor ball and laser designator, a generator for power and a launcher that carries four APKWS 70mm laser guided rockets. These weigh only 15 kg (32 pounds) each and have a range of about a thousand meters when fired from the ground. Vampire can be used to detect and fire APKWS laser guided rockets at air and even ground targets. Any UAV, cruise missile or helicopter within range is vulnerable. Vampire is designed to be reconfigured, which is the kind of system Ukrainians prefer. The Fletcher launcher is designed to use the new, longer range APKWS rockets that gain additional range by having a larger rocket motor which makes the APKWS longer. Ukrainians are expected to modify Vampire to better suit their needs or simply to obtain longer range while carrying more rockets ready to fire.

Ukraine has already received many man-portable (size and weight of a large rifle) AUDs that use electronic jamming. Ukraine has been using DroneGun for over a year. KVS G-6, a more recent example of this type of AUD, quickly appeared in Ukraine because it was developed and manufactured in Ukraine. The Ukraine War has created a market for AUDs and manufacturers have responded.

Until the Ukraine War, Israel was the leader in combat proven AUD systems. One example is Skylock, which proved itself against Iranian UAVs used during the early 2021 Hamas/Israel ten-day war with Israel. This brief conflict provided ample opportunities to test new Israeli AUD systems. Israel is a leader in the development of AUDs, mainly because it faces attacks from the widest variety of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) types, and the most attacks using UAVs.

In preparation for a large-scale use of different type UAVs against Israel from Iran-backed Hamas in the south or Hezbollah (Lebanon) and Iran (Syria), Israel had developed numerous ways to detect and destroy or disable hostile UAVs. Israel has already detected and defeated six Hamas UAV attacks. There may have been other Hamas UAVs launched that never got near the border because of UAV malfunctions or operator error. The six UAVs that were a threat were all detected and taken down via missiles, usually from Iron Dome but one was by an air-to-air missile, and at least one UAV was disabled using a technology that Israel would not discuss. This was probably one of the electronic AUD systems, which Israeli tech companies have developed over the last few years.

One of the new (to large-scale combat) systems Israel would discuss receives data from all sensors (radars or electronic detection systems) and, in real time, creates a single database/map display of all enemy systems detected. One feature of this new system’s software is an accurate estimate of where UAVs were launched from. This provides an opportunity to attack the UAV operator or launch site. This system has already caused more losses to Hamas rocket launching teams, who thought the Israelis were just getting lucky. Now Hamas knows that luck had nothing to do with it. Israel has often sought to come up with defenses against new enemy weapons or tactics with a multi-system solution. Nowhere has this been more evident than when it comes to the growing threat from armed UAVs.

For over a decade, many if not most new AUD systems have come from Israel. Many specialize in the use of multiple sensors and systems to detect and disable UAVs. The best and most recent example of this is Skylock, an AUD system using multiple sensors and EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment, plus a short-range laser, to detect, identify and jam or take over unidentified UAVs trying to enter military bases, airports, or industrial facilities. Skylock uses a combination of radar, electro-optical (visual) and electronic signal monitoring sensors capable of detecting the smallest UAVs, especially quad-copters, approaching a restricted area. Another Israeli approach is to use an interceptor UAV that can drop a net on a UAV but the preferred method is to jam the UAV control signals or, if possible, seize control and land it.

A growing number of AUDs are built to deal with any small UAV. One of the more effective, and expensive of these AUDs is the Israeli Drone Dome system. These cost $3.4 million each and consist of a 360-degree radar system, an electro-optical day/night surveillance unit and a wideband (most frequencies drones use) electronic emissions detector. With all this Drone Dome can reliably detect any small quadcopter or fixed-wing UAV within 3,500 meters. Most quadcopters and UAVs encountered are larger and can be detected out to ten kilometers. Once spotted, Drone Dome uses a focused jamming signal that disrupts radio control signals and force the drones to crash or operate erratically. Drone Dome has an optional laser gun that can be aimed by Drone Dome to destroy the drone at ranges up to 2,000 meters. In a combat zone, you can also employ machine-guns to bring down the drone. Many buyers do not purchase the laser option and depend on Drone Dome being able to reliably detect all manner of small quadcopters from several manufacturers.

What makes Skylock and Drone Dome different is their heavy use of electronic sensors to detect and jam the control signals used by UAVs, leaving the laser as a last resort. Several such AUD systems are already in service and effective because they are good at detecting UAVs electronically, and either jamming those control signals or taking over the control signals and capturing (by making it land) the UAV. American troops in Iraq and Syria were asking for AUD systems that use lasers, plus better UAV detection systems as well those with jammers to disable UAVs. There is also a need for AUDs that can detect and destroy UAVs that do not use control signals and basically go on pre-programmed missions. This can be to take photos or deliver a small explosive. Usually, it is to take photos and return. Drone Dome is one of several AUD systems equipped to detect and locate UAVs operating in pre-programmed mode and destroy or disable them quietly with a vehicle-mounted laser.

AUDs like Drone Dome also use one or more radar systems and one or more sensor systems for detecting UAV control signals or visual images that pattern recognition software can quickly identify. While commercial UAVs are more common, the basic design principles have not changed. AUDs are constantly evolving to better detect and disable or destroy unwanted UAVs. The best ones are recent models that tend to be very expensive and used only for extreme situations, like UAV defense in combat zones. Airports, especially the larger ones, are going to have to join the military in buying the latest AUDs, which at least lowers the AUD price and inspires even faster innovation and development.

Ukraine could have used Skylock or Drone Dome, but Israel does not provide weapons for Ukraine because of an arrangement with Russia to assist Israel in keeping Iranian forces in Syria from getting close to the Israeli border or launching any attacks on Israel. In Ukraine, NATO nations providing weapons are not directly threatened with Russian attacks.


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