back to article Brit military wants a small-drone-killer system for £20m

Fresh from showing off its gotta-zap-'em-all Dragonfire laser cannon, the Ministry of Defence is now buying a £20m anti-drone system. The "urgent" requirement from the MoD was issued last week, and could be linked to the mischievous Scot who landed his hobby drone aboard aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in August. "The …

  1. Alister Silver badge

    If they pay me £20m, and supply me with a shotgun and cartridges, I'll happily take on the job of anti-drone officer.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "shotgun and cartridges"

      There's already been a proof of concept experiment.

      1. NoneSuch Silver badge

        Fire Bjork out of a cannon

        Won't do a damned thing about drones, but you will see Bjork fired out of a cannon.


    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      For that amount of money, I can pocket 10M, pay 500K for Boris folly sitting in the garage somewhere around London (the second hand German water cannons) and rig it on a 360 degree mount with laser/visual targeting. In fact, more like pocketing 15 mil - I do not see how you will need more than a couple of mil on the prototype. Even with QuinetiQ markup.

  2. ukgnome

    Catch the pigeon for the 21st century

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      " Catch the pigeon for the 21st century"

      Like flying moles.


  3. Semtex451

    Sounds like a job for your Special Projects Bureau

    1. teknopaul Silver badge

      RF jamming got to be worth a try for taking out toy drones.

      cheap , easy , probably illegal to try it out in the office.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        RF jamming

        2-120kg is more than sufficient to fit an Rasperry or Arduino based autopilot. In fact, the computing power a drone can carry nowdays is perfectly fit for the purpose of targeting and homing in on the CIWS.

        So jamming helps only against people taking the piss. It will not stop people taking a couple of kg of high explosive instead.

        The real solution here is neither shooting, nor laser, nor jamming - they have the issue of range. Their range is too good so you cannot use them close to the shore and in-port.

        The real solution, however is all around a ship all the time. It is called water. I have yet to see a 2-120kg drone which is capable of surviving a mining grade (not the wimpy ones used by the police) watercannon. Range is also perfectly appropriate - > 100 meters on specialized versions so a bow and aft mounts can cover even a ship the size of Queen Lizzy.


        Anyone with a drone capable of surviving this, please come forward.

        There is an existing cheap and shipping (with a sizeable install base) navalized version:

        1. teknopaul Silver badge

          tasty, presumably targeting has to be more precise than explosives. you're probably only targeting in 2d, explosives would need to know the distance.

          1. Alan Edwards

            > presumably targeting has to be more precise than explosives

            Not really, just target anywhere above the target drone. A lot aren't waterproof at all, and if it was the weight of the water would push it down.

        2. kmac499

          A neighbour of mine was the Chief engineer on a naval ship during the Cod War (UK vs Iceland back in the 70's) They rigged up water and air hoses (air fed from the engines starter system) linked to a rotary valve and nozzle. Hand cranking the valve fired 'bullets' of water about two feet long with a few hundred psi behind 'em. They used it gattling gun style to play along the thin hulls of the icelandic fisheries vessels as they tried to cut up the RN ships. Made a helluva noise apparently.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I recall seeing plenty of pictures at the time of the sides of RN frigates ripped open by those Icelandic converted trawlers fisheries vessels. Thin-skinned they weren't.

            1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


              ... but the British frigates and fishery protection vessels were.

              Basically, when you get a sharp edge meeting thin sheet steel at any speed, you will end up with a gash in the sheet. Remember, post WW2 ships have no armor.

              1. DButch

                Re: @Credas

                An old C.S. Forester novel - "The Ship", described a light cruiser's mission as "To give without receiving". Applies to any naval vessel that sacrifices armor for speed. A paraphrase of Moliere: “The secret to fencing consists in two things: to give and to not receive.”

        3. handleoclast

          Re: water cannon

          The only problem I can see with this is there's a maximum height it can reach. So fly the drone above that and drop IEDs. Yeah, targeting accuracy of the IED might be very low when dropped from that height, but the drone can always go back to pick up more.

          Well, the other problem is that it only works on ships, and the bad guys are using IEDs mainly over land at the moment.

          Apart from those problems, great idea. :)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ah if only life were simple - drones, kind of by their nature, often can fly pre-programmed missions. And an evil.corp 2000 drone will automatically home in on the 'loudest' radio signal if it loses comms, before plonking it self down and letting off a rude raspberry (other flavours of nastiness are user specified options).

        1. Lee D Silver badge

          Why would you think they would be radio-controlled?

          It wouldn't be infeasible, now, today, as an "art project", to spend £50k, get a warehouse full of them, strap something on the bottom, modify them to fly to preset locations and rip out their radios, drive 10,000 miles out of the way, wait three months to ensure you're home and dry and out of suspicion, and then dial the magic number or set the magic bit on an onion address, that causes them to be powered up, float off through the roof and all attack a different target, or all home in on the same target.

          Taking them out would literally require an EMP that knocks out all kinds of things, and you'd never know if you got them all.

          With a bit of onboard coding, a solar panel and an Arduino, you could program them to all run off, sit on a random roof for a few weeks and then form a co-ordinated attack at the same time anywhere in the world. Stopping, charging, and then carrying on if they get slowed up or take heavy losses early.

          The danger in these things is actually predicted by the mischief that could be caused in the hands of a crop-circle-maker, protestor, artist, or even just kids playing games.

          At no point, once powered up, do they need radio to do that job. Even with deliberate GPS takedown (in a matter of hours? Yeah, right), there's nothing stopping them triangulating from cheap 3G sticks which will give you position to a couple of hundred meters on their own, let alone in tandem.

          To be honest, the threat of a hostile drone swarm, even from another country, is scary. They could be sitting for years, building up, lying in fields, flying off if anything comes near, and then making a coordinated and almost indefensible attack using any payload they can carry. Even the military were looking at drones that could sit on powerlines and charge up, etc. but a determined hacker with a thousand identical drones which can carry even the smallest of payloads could cause a nuisance and a news story at least, commit terrorism, or prompt a military response if they did it right.

          Seriously, there are drones out there with ranges of 7km and flight times in the hours. They ain't cheap but a year ago they didn't exist. Next year, you'll hear of some enthusiast flying them near Heathrow, the year after that they will be in your toy shops.

          And if ever there was a tool that it's difficult to determine the source of, especially if you don't use radio, surely that's gotta be one. How many people are arrested when their drones buzz Heathrow, football stadiums, even the Empire State Building? Almost none, because nobody knows who was flying them.

    2. teknopaul Silver badge

      or short range, small, targeted, chemical rockets. doubles up as a fireworks display.

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


      Unfortunately, Lester (RIP) pretty much was the SPB.

      Still a loss.

      Wonder where LOHAN is now. Probably stuck in a US storage locker, to be shown on Storage Hunters after the rent is due.

  4. teknopaul Silver badge


    Laser drone killers, sounds like job for EL REG SPECIAL PROJECTS BUREAU. Starting, of course, with a poll for the name and a logo competition :)

  5. Salestard

    Flock of Gulls

    I'll take the £20m and deliver a Flock of Gulls (no, not the prog rock band) trained to associate the top of drones with food using the magic of Pavlovian conditioning.

    Gulls, Herring, Anti-Drone, Number 1, Mark 1.

    My logic is undeniable; they're smart enough to train, dumb enough to condition. There's bloody faaasands of 'em just knocking about round RN facilities. They're aggressive buggers, and surprisingly large. I only need to train the first generation, and maintain their interest by occasionally sending up a food drone to keep up the pretence.

    Then I can sub-licence to BAe, who can then charge the gubbermint a bazillion pounds to upgrade to Mark 2, which will be thirty two years late, 450% of budget, and be a confused otter strapped to the underside of a crow.

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Flock of Gulls

      upgrade to Mark 2, which will be thirty two years late, 450% of budget, and be a confused otter strapped to the underside of a crow.


      Have one of these ------>

    2. Paul Woodhouse

      Re: Flock of Gulls

      I actually read that as confused otter strapped to the underside of a cow first... was thinking that might make a large splash once it had completed its mission...

      1. Salestard

        Re: Flock of Gulls

        Well, it could work - although it'd have to be the Mark 3 or later.

        The real issue would be when said bovines take to nesting on the chimneys around the docks.

        1. Paul Woodhouse

          Re: Flock of Gulls

          and of course it won't be senior staff or directors car parking spaces are anywhere near those chimneys will it?

      2. DButch

        Re: Flock of Gulls

        Old National Lampoon article about Greyhound buses equipped with side mounted 1000 lb bombs which, as the article said: "Can be dropped to deadly effect." Yes, I agree.

    3. JamesPond

      Re: Flock of Gulls

      Sorry, you have the incorrect monetisation plan here. As per F35 and all other BAe projects, the money is in the servicing/ maintenance side, not the development and build. Given reducing fish stocks, I don't think £10 per day per gull would be over-the-top. How many gulls per ship do you need? I'd say at least 100 to cover multiple swarm attacks, for each of the 77 ships of the RN, that's only £28m per year, excluding training and human support costs. What can you get these days for £28m to defend the whole fleet?

    4. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Flock of Gulls

      ...and nailed it Salestard.

  6. wyatt

    Would 20mil get a shark in the air? Could attach the laser to the shark?

  7. Simon Harris Silver badge


    All MoD projects should follow this example and be named after classic Dr Who stories.

  8. Dwarf Silver badge

    Seek and destroy - build a better drone that is given a target and just homes in on it to take it out.

    Could even go retro and go for the Maximilian character from The Black Hole

    And for bonus points, make the same thing work on those Asian Hornets !!

    I've not worked out yet how to overcome the fact that the target drone is only 50ft from the nearest plane, but that's another issue.

  9. Arachnoid

    Target recognition

    Its not so much knocking the device down thats going to be hard as you can launch tangle netting or a solid or liquid object once its in range.The difficulty is target recognition on such a small scale object in a variety of weathers and light conditions, given the airspace may also be full of wildlife.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Target recognition

      Use acoustic homing to target the buzzing motors?

  10. Mr Sceptical
    Black Helicopters

    Surely microwaves?

    Just need a bloody powerful, not particularly accurate microwave array.

    Point in general drone direction, whack up power to 'roast swan' level and watch the drone flip out/short circuit/turn into firework display - at the distance they'd become a threat to a warship, should easily be in range.

    Could you retask some of the comms gear for this function?

    Icon for drones too!

    1. Robin Bradshaw

      Re: Surely microwaves?

      The raving idiots from the ukranian youtube channel Kreosan have a small scale demo of this with their staggeringly mindboggelingly dangerous magnetron on a stick:

      Kind of interesting to see but it made me wince even though im 2000 miles away at the other end of an internet connection.

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: Surely microwaves?

        @Robin Bradshaw

        Fabulous ! And the effect on the small lithium phone batteries shows a weakness of drones ..

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All you need to do is jam them.

    Powerful water guns with a viscous liquid such as a conserve made from fruit and sugar boiled to a thick consistency.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      There's only one man who would dare Raspberry me!

      1. Semtex451

        Is it the Phantom Raspberry blower of old London Town?

      2. Pedigree-Pete

        Re: Raspberry @ Lee D

        Ah! The Phantom is brought back to mind. RIP Ronnies. PP

  12. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge


    A small nuclear blast ought to generate enough EMP to take drones down. Those running, backing and profiting from any conflict will be well clear of the front lines so there shouldn't be any problems.

    I would have gone for the more apt 'Eat This' icon but best to play safe ->

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: EMP

      "A small nuclear blast ought to generate enough EMP to take drones down. "

      And Kim Jong Un has a pathological fear of drones, hence his recent shenanigans, so that's all right then.

  13. Haku

    Bionic dogs.

    I've witnessed enough dogs barking & chasing drones to realise there's potential there, we just need to find those dogs that like chasing them and give them bionic upgrades - mechanical legs that are able to run at 50 mph and jump small buildings, titanium jaws & teeth and a sonic bark that knocks out electronics.

    1. B*stardTintedGlasses

      Re: Bionic dogs.

      Similar to the "Rat-things" from Snow Crash?

      Good Doggy....

      "Rat Things are specially engineered American Pit Bull Terrier clones, with genetic and biological modifications designed to optimize their strength, endurance, agility, reflexes, and aggression. As a result, they are larger than normal Pit Bulls, being closer in size to a Rottweiler."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bionic dogs.

      I believe the beast of Craggy Island has a retractable leg for leaping purposes, if anyone knows how to find and/or tame it.

  14. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Counter counter measures

    If you are Mr Evil Guy with a drone with a nasty payload wanting to get it through an anti-drone defense system then sending a group of decoy drones at the same time as the nasty one could greatly increase the chance of the payload hitting its target. Basic drones cost under £1k each so expending a few to get the payload to its target could be cost effective. It also requires the defender to spend much more money for a more capable defense system for each target that needs defending.

    The water cannon defense has severe limitations - a hostile drone can fly at 1000ft AGL, come to a hover over the target (still at 1000ft AGL) and drop its payload without coming within range of a water cannon.

    Drones could also be programmed to fly evasive maneuvers near the target to make it more difficult for the anti-drone defenses.

    Drones (like IEDs) make the defender expend far more money and effort than the attacker and for the same reason - the defender does not know where the next attack will be.

  15. BeakUpBottom

    These things don't move that fast, surely they just need to adapt the CWIZ to target them? That's got to be a cheaper solution?

    1. Arachnoid

      Drone spped

      We are not just talking about those slow blade spinning droids much loved by nerds but high speed,jet powered devices too.

      As for many of the "weapons" offered as solutions so far, just remember many of the areas under defense will be in civilian populated areas during peace time.

  16. Robin Bradshaw

    Barrage baloons?

    How about old fashioned barrage baloons, but rather than those large cumbersome WWII things i was thinking more dental floss and party baloons its quite effective when wrapped round a motor.

    You can see it towards the end of this video here:

    Also the drone mounted chainsaw might work in a defensive capability too

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd love to help...

    ...but UK Gov has banned all research into anything more dangerous than wet cotton wool (although she is working on that as well).

    1. fobobob

      Re: I'd love to help...

      Someone could suffocate themselves with that, better make it dry wool instead. But that could be a fire hazard, or even itchy, so...

  18. Lysenko

    This again...

    ("my 10,000 flying robots will overwhelm your air defence systems designed to shoot down conventional aircraft"), it is only recently that technology has advanced to the point where drone swarms are plausible.

    Overwhelming air defence systems with drones was feasible in 1944 when the Germans did it with the V1. Every cruise missile designed since then has worked on the same basis, as do MIRVs. There is nothing even remotely "new" about any of this other than the fact that you can now buy your Radio Controlled Model Aircraft on Amazon instead of learning to use a craft knife and a heat shrink gun (if you want to use a "drone" as a weapon then you want wings, not one of those quad-copter toys).

  19. Milton


    At least one other poster mentioned EMP, which I would have thought to have the ideal capabilities for the job. ISTR a trunk-sized EMP device was marketed at police forces some years ago with the idea that it could be used to shut down the electronics, and therefore disable the engines, of cars that were being pursued. It was a stupid idea, of course—you don't want your power steering and brake servos losing their grunt on a 70mph bend—but it may be a much better fit for drones.

    If you don't want to simply EMP them, and prefer a soft landing approach, I'd suggest a Goo Drone. This is a drone itself, and it's designed to fly over the intruder and dispense a couple of pints of goo that progressively hardens on air contact, in about 20 seconds, to form numerous strands of rubbery spaghetti. The goo falls in, on and among the intruder's props. The rotors don't stop instantly: instead, they gradually seize up, offering a fair chance that the drone will make a slow descent and survivable landing. (You don't want to kill a £300 drone at the expense of the $100m F-35 that was directly underneath it on the flight deck.)

    For my last offering, if you want to immediately kill an intruder without too much risk to bystanding people, planes and radar masts, make a large bore shot weapon that can fire a few pounds of ice chips or rock salt or something similar, with a muzzle velocity of, say, 800 fps. The stuff needs to have a ballistic profile that tapers fast against air resistance. Get the material, grain size and propellant right and you have a weapon which would blow a drone into small pieces at 50 yds without offering the slightest threat to something 300 yds downrange. Ideal for fast-moving and manouevering close-range airborne targets I'd have thought?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: EMP

      You realize you just screwed yourself out of 20 million, right?

  20. Arachnoid

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The Dragonfire laser cannon, under development in the UK, can be used against larger drones, according to manufacturer MBDA. With a stated recharge time between shots measured in minutes"

    If it takes 3 minutes to recharge get 180 of them, problem solved.

    They also need to be mounted on sharks.

  22. x 7

    During WW2 pigeons were trained to guide missiles to blow up submarines.

    Surely we could train bomb-carrying pigeons to associate drones with food, and so target the drones and blow them up?

  23. ArrZarr Silver badge

    On the note of defending from drone attacks, imagine how many drones the Queen Lizzy could carry. Screw the F-35, just load her up with a few hundred (thousand?) drones.

    Or did I just invent the missile?

  24. Camilla Smythe

    Dragon Fire

    "The Dragonfire laser cannon, under development in the UK, can be used against larger drones, according to manufacturer MBDA. With a stated recharge time between shots measured in minutes"

    Obviously I can't but I can wank faster than that. Perhaps they need to ask Puff where they are going wrong.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely it would be better to locate and deal with the operator? That way you have the drone and the a squidgy human for target practice.

  26. Bernard M. Orwell

    Natures Way

    Problem solved?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would use the money to genetically modify cats so they were huge, their hunting skills would be no match for a drone.

    The only downside to this is the old adage "if a cat could eat you it would".

  28. Mahhn

    no drone war please

    since it would never end, just drone on and on.

    Also see Screamers 1995

  29. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    20 million Sterling for an air rifle?

    Wow, whoever is BAE's account rep at the MoD deserves a trip to President's Club! :)

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: 20 million Sterling for an air rifle?

      Target recognition and aiming.

      Bringing down a drone of that size is trivial, aiming your potato gun or water pulse cannon is very hard.

  30. herman Silver badge

    Hmm, a few kilowatts from an old Klystron tube radar will frazzle any small aircraft.

  31. Nimby

    These watermelons aren't going to hammer themselves!

    You Brits are out of luck. In the States there's a simple solution. If we're talking about dealing with explosives smuggled on-board flying craft, then the answer is simple: employ the TSA. I figure a cannon designed to fire a TSA agent at a drone kills two birds with one stone. And when they run out of ammo, use FAA rank-and-file as the replacement. If it doesn't solve the problem outright, at least it makes it a better place. ;)

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