Stopping Drones on the Battlefield
By John Wills
It seems drones are ubiquitous. From personal use, to commercial applications and military deployments, drones are available and used globally; it’s a billion-dollar industry. Their relatively inexpensive price tags makes it easy for anyone to purchase, including those bent on destruction and mayhem.
Our old nemesis, Russia, utilized drones when they invaded Crimea. The unmanned aircraft systems were used to identify enemy soldiers on the ground. Once spotted, the drone operators simply relayed coordinates for missile and artillery strikes. ISIS has also begun using drones in their battle plans, and the drone threat has been employed by terrorist groups in conflicts from the Middle East to Eastern Europe.
Stopping the threat
The U.S. military recognizes the enormous threat that drone usage poses and has come up with a solution: introducing the IXI Dronekiller. This new, hand-held device is the first of its kind, and according to IXI Technology, it employs counter-drone technology that uses software defined radio. A company official explained that the new weapon is not a broadband jammer like one can purchase online. It targets whatever specific frequency drones are operating on. The IXI official explained that every drone has a different type of frequency. For instance, the DJI Phantom, a common, commercial-use drone, operates on the 2400 to 2483 MHz frequency, or 2.4 GHz band. Within that 2.4 band, an operator selects different channels to link between them and the drone itself.
The latest iteration of the DJI Phantom drone is capable of hopping channels. However, the IXI Dronekiller can counter that ability. The new weapon is not simply blocking a whole channel, but rather inserting a bit of noise or additional data to break the link between drone and operator. The Dronekiller is able to target all Type I and Type II commercial drones, the type seen by non-state, and/or some state, actors and employed on battlefields like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. These commercial drones are used by many terror groups for surveillance, but occasionally they add a bomb to drop on their adversaries.
Last year in Syria, fighters from a Christian militia reported they uncovered what they described as an ISIS drone factory. The theory was that ISIS was building drones from spare parts. However, whatever is built and regardless of frequency, the Dronekiller can identify the frequency and neutralize the threat. The IXI has a radio frequency sensor that can acquire all drone signals in roughly three seconds.
How it works
The new Dronekiller is simple to operate, and the user training time is less than one minute. It’s a point-and-shoot gun with a 30-degree cone of effect on whatever threat is targeted. Simply point the weapon in the direction of the target and when the drone flies into the cone, it either crashes, if it’s a cheap one, or flies back to base, if it’s a more advanced drone. If it heads back, the IXI can follow it and see who was flying it. A newer version of the device can also be mounted to an assault rifle, similar to attaching an M203 grenade launcher.
The IXI Dronekiller’s specs include a four-hour battery life in active mode use, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, right- or left-hand operation, an environment-resistant frame, a weight of 7.5 pounds and a range of one kilometer.
The new system is being tested by marines at Camp Pendleton, California, at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, by the army. Oceanside Police Department in San Diego, California, and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department already use a version of the IXI to attack commercial drones violating airspace regulations during events like the Golden Globes and Rose Bowl.
Good and bad
Drone usage is on the rise and so is the ability to intercept them and their frequencies. Recently, at Apple, an individual was caught using a drone to film construction of the company’s new campus, named Apple Park. The user was quickly identified and ordered to stop.
Drones are also used for legal purposes, such as helping companies to better view their construction sites or real estate properties or filming farm operations. On the other hand, people find new ways to use drones for illegal purposes. Prisons have reported contraband, such as tobacco and drugs, being flown over gates and walls. In time of disasters, curiosity seekers have been known to fly their drones for better views of damage caused by hurricanes and tornadoes, or of firefighters fighting a blaze. Instances such as these have prompted the FAA to step in and ban drones interfering with rescue or recovery efforts.
The military has also been affected by civilian drones. Some operations include Coast Guard drills, Air Force maneuvers, and one incident involving a Central Command pilot buzzed by a drone last year while attempting to land on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
Technology is expensive, but necessary. The U.S. military’s spending on drones is set to reach a five-year high. The DOD fiscal year 2018 budget request contained $6.97 billion for drone-related procurement, research and development and system-specific construction. The FY 2019 budget request is approximately $9.39 billion. The proposal includes funding for the procurement of 3,447 new air, ground and sea drones. This is an increase from the 2018 procurement of 807 drones.