Remotely piloted air systems (RPASs), like so many other brilliant inventions, are being used for malicious missions a far cry from what their inventors originally designed them for. Because today these drones are relatively cheap, available to the general public, and easy to use, so a rising number of them are flying where they shouldn’t be.
The phenomenon became so noticeable in autumn 2014 that France’s general secretariat for defence and national security (SGDSN) and the ANR national research agency, launched a programme to find ways to counter them without resorting to spoofing, a technique to replace the signal being sent by the RPAS pilot with another one, which is illegal in France.
Things have moved remarkably fast since then. By April 2015 three demonstrators had been chosen from amongst 24 candidates: ANGELAS, BOREADES and SPID; in October that year the C-UAV Pioneer Group with Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom was set up; on 25 October 2016 a law came into effect in France to strengthen security in the use of civilian drones and then last Friday, 18 November, at the Villacoublay airforce base to the west of Paris, the three projects chosen were demonstrated. And FOB was there.
So, why, you may wonder, was FOB interested in a project that is essentially civilian? The answer is that if an RPAS is detected and identified as malicious then the army or the gendarmerie must be contacted to neutralise the threat. Nobody else is allowed to do so. And the principal method used is to jam the signals, either to stop the RPAS from “hearing” its pilot or to stop it receiving the GPS signals it needs to function and so lands immediately below the place where the signals were lost. Thus the military operator has to make sure that at the moment when he jams the signals the RPAS is flying over a place where it can safely land.
In the framework of the €1.6m ANGELAS project, piloted by the French aerospace lab, ONERA, with Thales, Exavision, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), Telecom SudParis, EDF, and the Paris Institute of Criminology (which checked that the proposal did not break any conventions, laws or regulations) work centred on jamming the GPS signal, jamming the remote control and the video and dazzling the RPAS with a laser.
Jean-Michel Negret, responsible for Thales’ anti-RPAS product line, told FOB that ANGELAS is “not industrially ready” but the idea has been “to work on upstream technologies”. The team concentrated on solutions that could be deployed to protect military bases, airports etc. “We did not work on protecting urban zones,” he stressed.
BOREADES, coordinated by French company CS Communication & Systèmes, developed a gun to neutralise the threat: the UAV Scrambler 300, an electromagnetic system to jam the GPS and neutralise the remote control. FOB learned that it has been in use somewhere for several months, but we couldn’t find out where!
Because there is a large export market in countries where spoofing is allowed, the BOREADES project also worked on urgent and smart spoofing to limit the radius of undesired perturbations of other GPS receivers.
The €1.2m SPID project, coordinated by the Roboost company, set out to use off-the-shelf technologies and has also been deployed several times. It simply said it had developed “innovative countermeasures to ensure safe neutralisation.”