I’ve been prompted by quite a few e-mails asking about my ideas on countering drones. I was going to hold off on this entry for a while longer but I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way and give you a little break from defensive theory to throw some TTPs out. What are presented here are for educational purposes only and I do not condone illegal behavior. With that out of the way let’s get down to business.
In one of the Threat entries I mentioned air superiority and the fact that as violent organizations gain technology they will no doubt employ drones to gather target information and conduct surveillance along with coordinating attacks. Currently civilian drone tech is chasing almost directly in line with military tech so what I’m going to do here is write what I know about – tactical small unmanned aerial systems or as we like to call ’em drones. Their civilian counterparts are such an ideal surrogate that the technology addressed will definitely work against the civvie copies. This article focuses on smaller unmanned aerial platforms. Larger ones that fly several thousand feet in the air and carry payloads similar to aircraft aren’t going to be as effected by any active measures you take however in many instances the passive measures I mentioned will help. Just remember that larger drones employ things like synthetic aperture radar and other complex detection capabilities (google Gorgon Stare to see what I’m referring to).
There are a number of ways to defeat drone technology. We’re going to break them down into two categories – Passive and Active Defense. Quick defs:
Passive Defense: All measures, other than active defense taken to minimize the effectiveness of hostile air platforms against friendly assets. For our purpose these measures include camouflage, concealment, deception, dispersion, and detection.
Active Defense: Direct defensive action taken to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile aerial platforms in the process of reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and coordination. For our purpose active defense includes such measures as the use of aircraft, weapons, and electronic warfare.
These are the two methodologies to defeat the platform. In the process of defeating the platform we are also going to target the one thing nobody seems to think about – the operator and his audience. because without them that flying tchotchke is useless.
To understand the threat we need to do some research. What I present is the most immediate characteristics of the threat you are likely to face. With some minor differences all of the smaller drones nowadays have the following operational characteristics:
Average dimensions: Wingspan: Up to 36″, Length: Up to 48″
Normal Operating Altitude: 50 to 500 feet.
Ground speed: 20 to 50 m.p.h.
Flight duration: 45 minutes to 5 hours.
Operational range from ground Station: 5 to 25km.
Sensors: Electro Optical cameras (CCTV type), may be either forward and side looking or gimbaled (on a turret). Systems currently have the capability to use an Infrared imager.
Keep these capabilities in mind. They are important.
So first up is passive defense. What are VGs going to use smaller drones for? Reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and coordination. That means they need to see the asset they want to look at. Pretty straightforward. So what are some ways we can use the elements I outlined in the passive defense measures? Let’s take a look:
Camouflage and concealment: Things like parking vehicle inside of outbuildings or garages, practicing basic camouflage procedures like covering windshields and other glass on vehicles, moving or conducting our activities under either cover or concealment (smaller drones suck at looking inside of dense woods), and avoiding displaying anything that would relate any elements of EEFI to the threat. A good rule of thumb is “Try to make any measure or activity as invisible to the ground and air as possible. Be creative in your use of camo and concealment. Let that grass grow over your tanglefoot – it’ll be harder to spot from 500 feet in the air. Basically what we want to do is reduce our overall signature as much as possible to include any defensive measures we’ve taken.
Deception: Deception is pretty easy and can be pretty damn effective. That VG that uses a drone to surveil your property may be looking at your house to see where the entries and windows are. Try adding extra fake windows and doors through some creative use of paint. Now here’s where I’m not going to concentrate on the platform but the operator and audience. Remember: A drone is just a dumb machine with humans on the other end. And humans look for things. So overwhelm them – give ’em so much to look at that they can’t process all of it in a timely manner or make sense of it and they become oversaturated. At nighttime a couple of well placed IR LEDs on a timing circuit to flash (like made here) in a tree line or in windows (especially fake windows) will look similar to a muzzle flash. Now imagine putting a couple or three dozen spread out over a square kilometer in the edge of a woodline or in an empty outbuilding (flank and attack an outhouse – boy wouldn’t they feel stupid). How the heck is the enemy supposed to coordinate a ground attack if they can’t figure out what’s a real muzzle flash or not? Things like fake positions with this little beauty will not only frustrate but misdirect the VGs efforts. Like that angle dude says – “Mindfuck Them” or something like that. You can even use 12v RV lights, etc. You are only limited by your imagination. Some added reading for deception techniques: FM 90-2 Battlefield Deception
Dispersion: Pretty straightforward. Don’t cluster together. If you’re going to have a tribal meeting don’t everyone try and park in the front door. Quite the opposite. Park well enough away and under cover so that the enemy doesn’t see any visible indicators of a nice and juicy single basket target with a bunch of folks grabassing together or vehicles parked in a nice neat row. Dispersion is also important for defense – it’s good old fashioned common sense to disperse your defenses so the enemy can’t target you in one fell swoop. It also allows you to employ some other measures I’ll go into later.
Detection: These damn things are quiet and about the same color as the sky. Most of them use small electric motors that us folks that have spent lifetimes around loud noises don’t hear until it’s too late. But ya know what does hear them? Dogs. I was out at a lake on a military installation a few years ago one afternoon with HH6 and her Chihuahua and that little bastage went absolutely batshit crazy growling and pointing at something I couldn’t see in the distance. When I got the binos out of my truck I saw it – a Raven UAV way across the lake. That Chihuahua heard that thing a good couple of kilometers away. That’s another argument for owning dogs. There’s other methods including electronic ears, etc. but if we go back to some good old fashioned pre-WWII and foxhunter tech another thing that works well is a large funnel hooked up to a stethoscope. Check out fleabay and buy a cheap Chicom stethoscope, get yourself a good huge funnel, remove the diaphragm from the stethoscope connect the two and wala – directional sound detection like they used in the trenches back in granddaddy’s day to listen for the Red Baron, IIRC I think it was called a “Phonophore”. Plus it works damn good for listening to stuff at long range on the ground. And the damn things doesn’t use CR123s or AAs. Simple, Cheap, Reliable.
So now we come to the next part – Active Defense. Think of active defense as measures you take to target the platform directly. remember those measures include: aircraft, weapons, and electronic warfare. let’s take a look at them.
Aircraft: So do we have aircraft? We might have some small scale RC type aircraft available but it’s pretty damn hard to conduct an RC to Drone engagement and there’s actually a sport where guys RC dogfight. It takes skill because these things are small – just a bit larger than an old Cox airplane (remember those?). But if your pockets are deep enough and you’re willing to put forth the effort it’s feasible. Looking at the average flight parameters above and you need to be able to exceed that envelope – remember you have to be faster than something to catch it. Do you want to ram it directly? That’s a pretty tall proposition unless you have a direct video link because these things are small and it’s hard to line up on them. Other options include possibly flying a couple of dozen long monofilament (fishin’ line for us non-tech types) streamers from the rear of your plane hoping to tangle the prop or control surface if you can fly above it closely. No thrust and no control = one lost drone.
Want to get really high tech? At the end of WWII the Germans developed a system by which they would fly a rocket propelled aircraft under our B-17s at high speed. It was too hard to try and manually shoot them down from such a fast platform so those crafty nazi bastages developed a little system by which a set of rockets were triggered by a photoelectric cell that sensed when it was out of direct sunlight. Mounted upward and slightly forward facing in the top of those little buzzing rocket planes the pilot didn’t have to trigger his weapon. Now put together some creative thought. Solar powered yard light with a nighttime sensor. Electric trigger hooked to a solenoid maybe? Ya see where I’m going? History has given us a lot of creative little inventions that are easily replicated with technology nowadays.
Another option might be ultralight aircraft. Relatively cheap and easy to operate (They used to not require a license) I think they more than exceed the operational envelope of drones. If you intend to go that route do some research on early WWI aircraft vs. aircraft techniques.
Personally I shy away from the aircraft solution. It ain’t cheap, simple, and not as reliable as our other two options.
Weapons: It’s not easy to hit a small flying target but it is possible. You naturally want the flattest and fastest caliber you can get your hands on but remember one thing – these platforms are light (often foam and plastic) and unarmored so don’t waste your 30-06 AP on them. Even smaller calibers (i.e. .17 HMR) that are low recoil will help. When we try to engage a low flying drone we’re going to want to use the following techniques:
Mass of fires: EVERYONE fires. Naturally the more rounds in the air with aimed fire the greater a chance of a hit. The Army term for this is All Arms for Air Defense.
Early engagement: We want to hit the thing as soon and as far out as possible. The closer it gets to and the longer it loiters over our AO the more time it has to accomplish its objectives.
Established aiming points: To deliver effective fires we need to understand where to aim at. For slow flying platforms like drones you’ll want to aim at least 1 aircraft length ahead of the flight path and for incoming drones aim slightly above the nose. For outgoing ones aim slightly below the flight path. The illustrations below depict aiming points.
Electronic warfare is a different animal. Assuming that our VGs posses drones we probably must also assume they have the capability to encrypt their control and data link. So jamming that would require some serious electronics that anything short of widespread broad frequency saturation would probably be ineffective. But we have a few other options. Focusing on the sensor package we look at what parts of the spectrum they use – normally everything inside of the visible spectrum plus the infrared spectrum. So IMHO our best bet is to focus any electronic efforts on that. Visible light can be jammed by ultra high power spotlights and possibly even lasers in both the visible and IR spectrum. Remember that normally on the smaller drones the sensor package is in the nose so concentrate any effort on the forward lower portion of the nose. Aligned with a decent scope and collimated at long range this could prove an effective technique as well.
The bottom line is to have to understand what the mission of the drone is and remember the fact that there are human operators on the other end. By employing aggressive and creative passive and active defense measures you can negate their effectiveness. When we measure the effectiveness of our capabilities remember – we don’t have to necessarily destroy the platform but rather deny it the capability to complete its mission. Use the examples and theory I’ve presented to think outside the box when it comes to dealing with these little buzzing menaces. And don’t forget to feed the dog.