back to article MoD plonks down £2m on table in exchange for anti-drone tech ideas

With one eye on the pre-Chrimbo debacle at Gatwick Airport, the Ministry of Defence has flung £2m at a "counter drone" fund to address the "threat to national security" posed by remote-controlled aircraft. Ever ready with the canned quote, omnipresent defence secretary Gavin Williamson declared this morning: "As the security …

  1. tiggity Silver badge

    surely

    "when persons unknown flew a drone just close enough to Britain's second busiest airport for long enough to force it to close down"

    should read

    "when persons unknown allegedly flew a drone just close enough to Britain's second busiest airport for long enough to force it to close down"

    As I do not recall seeing any actual proof

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: surely

      I saw a drone in an airport carpark. It was shaped like a white plastic bag and flew erratically about 6inches off the ground. I should post this to Twitter ,the daily mail and mumsnet before calling the police.

      Or do you think it.might have been a.mini UFO?

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      2. batfink Silver badge

        Re: surely

        Well I do in fact think it was a mini UFO. It wasn't large, it (allegedly) flew, and it hasn't been identified.

      3. jake Silver badge

        Re: surely

        I used to see those drones masquerading as plastic bags quite regularly, at Candlestick Park. Except ours were further camouflaged to look like they contained a frozen turkey! Miscreants unknown used to fly them across the field during baseball games. It was particularly bad when it was foggy ... imagine you're a middle infielder, minding your own business between pitches, when out of the fog what looks like a frozen turkey comes hurtling at your kneecaps! To the best of my knowledge, the perps have never been caught ... but I have seen one of those FTDs[0] at the new downtown yard[1].

        (Disclaimer: This reporter is the recipient of eighteen Croix de Candlestick pins, so it's quite likely that his memories of the place have been frozen in time ... )

        [0] Frozen Turkey Drones

        [1] Note to Larry: I will never call it the "O" word. Ever. I am not alone.

    2. anonanonanon

      Re: surely

      'm more inclined to believe there was a drone, I saw a lot of people arguing that it just wasn't possible for a drone to operate in the way it did and use that as evidence for no drone, but as someone who works with all manner of drones, I can confirm that all weather drones with long ranges and large enough to do damage to an aircraft do in fact exist and are fairly easy to come by (though not as cheap as something you'd buy from an electronics store).

      And flying them I know how very difficult it is to spot the buggers once they get any distance away, they don't show up on phone cameras, and airports don't let press photographers roam everywhere such that a perfect 100% even distribution of photographers would exist to catch the drone wherever it appeared, so I don't buy that it surely would have been photographed.

      In short, while it's true it could all be a hoax, I don't think the reasons I've ever read on why it must be a hoax hold any water.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: surely

        And the rest of us don't think any of the reasons we've ever read on why it must be a drone hold any water. Occam says it's mass hysteria, and that's good enough for me, pending any proof either way.

      2. Nick Kew

        Humbuggery

        Christmas lights now routinely include low-powered lasers.

        Interacting lasers accidentally produce momentary holographic display in the dark and wet.

        Something is flying out there, and it's not supposed to be there!

        And after a drone has first been reported, it takes only the merest hint of a light out there to generate more sightings.

    3. batfink Silver badge

      Re: surely

      What? You're not convinced that "eyewitnesses" positively identified at least one drone, at a distance, at 9pm on a wet winter's night?

      You sceptic you.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Police still haven't identified or caught the real culprits for the Gatwick fiasco.

    Could this be because they don't know who placed the calls? Whoever did that is the one who is responsible for the delays and shutdowns.

    Real drones have been seen at airports so we already know how much damage that will definitely cause.

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Police still haven't identified or caught the real culprits for the Gatwick fiasco.

      >Real drones have been seen at airports so we already know how much damage that will definitely cause.

      Its about the same as a bird strike for consumer drones. They can leave a nasty (and expensive) dent in the nose of an airliner and could take out an engine.

  3. Ken 16 Bronze badge
    Trollface

    Throw money at the problem?

    I'm thinking an airgun firing a stream of pennies...

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Throw money at the problem?

      ...more cash firehosed at them...

      Or a firehose firing a stream of pennies. Or maybe just a firehose?

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Throw money at the problem?

      I'm thinking of a biplane and a very large butterfly net. Maybe several biplanes. Call them Vulture Squadron.

    3. monty75

      Re: Throw money at the problem?

      I propose a swarm of drones with flashing blue lights on chasing the intruder round the airport while making nee-nah noises. They'd even be cost neutral if you stick cameras on them and sell the footage to Channel 5 for one of their "documentaries".

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Throw money at the problem?

        Add the Monty Python music* and it'll be a sure hit.

        *On second thought, let's go with the old Benny Hill music.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Balloons

    A network of helium balloons attached to cables placed at various heights around the airport will deter drones.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Balloons

      And those pesky aeroplanes too...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Balloons

        The proposal called for a way of deterring drones, any collateral damage is not my department.

  5. macjules Silver badge
    Happy

    The Ultimate Solution

    Moats to be dug around all airports and populated with specially bred sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads.

    1. hammarbtyp

      Re: The Ultimate Solution

      Good idea, but I would forgo the moats and just use unicorns, because a) they have a suitable mounting point and b) we will have a surplus of them soon

      1. brianpope

        Re: The Ultimate Solution

        I think the Brexit unicorns are becoming free soon also.

        And since we are talking Gatwick, Boris is conveniently in London and knows them intimately.

  6. Blockchain commentard

    "detect and track multiple threats simultaneously with minimal human oversight " because everyone knows how that ends. All hail our new AI overlords.

  7. Augie

    Such a great story you link to as well, so full of fact ;) "Kaboom! Russian Drone With Thermite Grenade Blows Up a Billion Dollars of Ukrainian Ammo"... only to find "Ukraine's domestic intelligence service, the SBU, believes that a drone carrying a Russian thermite hand grenade"

    So in other words.. drone with grenade made in Russia..

    I'm sure this must of been an issue before hand with just R/C Aircraft, cars..what was the solution then?

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      "I'm sure this must of been an issue before hand with just R/C Aircraft, cars" [sic]

      It wasn't a problem before, because R/C vehicles were much more expensive, and much less capable.

      Twenty years ago a remote control helicopter cost the best part of $2000, required the owner to assemble it all, and was at least as difficult to fly as a full sized machine. These days you can spend less than £100 on something which will outclass it in every way, whilst also being flyable by an amateur, and probably with an autopilot.

      PS, it's "must have been", not "must of been"

  8. hammarbtyp

    The problem is not such how do you detect and bring down a drone, it is how do you detect and bring down a down a drone in a urban environment , in all weathers without damaging or injuring the local population. for example i'm sure a variation of Israel's Iron dome could bring down a drone, just as long as the denizens of Gatwick were happy with one or two houses being taken out with collateral damage.

    Detection is the 1st issue. Optical or sound based detection is to short range and does not work well in poor weather. Radar is better, but you would need to ensure that it would not interfere with airport safety systems. Also you would get many false positives from birds etc

    Once detected you have to bring it down. Shooting one down, even if you could afford to have marksmen on call at all times, is a no no, due to the danger of stray shots and to be honest hitting a erratically moving target at considerable distance is a challenge for even the best. Same issues with missile, because there is a reason that they are not called hitiles. Electronic jamming could work. Problem is it is either short range, or if powerful enough probably take out other electronic kit in a nearby vicinity. Anyway drones can easily be automated.

    Probably the best idea is position a number of low power masts around you area of interest, to create a field which would detect things going through it. It would have to be tuned to respond better to metal than flesh. To bring it down the best way is probably to create hunter killer drones, that will track and disable other drones

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Radar should be able to discriminate between a drone and a bird simply by looking at the Doppler profile of the return and the spread due to the high speed of the rotors. It is short-ish range (km or so I guess?) so you could choose a band well above the typical civilian radar and comms bands for it and not worry too much about rain attenuation (heavy enough to kill radar probably means it takes the drone out as well)..

      But as you point out, what to DO once you see the target is a whole new kettle of fish.

      Hmm, fire fish at them to (a) clog the rotors, and (b) any that escape get the attention of local gulls?

    2. Brian Miller

      Signal jamming

      Since the drones will most likely not be running in a fully autonomous mode, the best thing to do is jam the control signal. No, I'm not suggesting that control of the drone should be the solution, just to jam it and get it out of the air.

      Triangulating on the person controlling the drone is not difficult, provided that directional antennas have been deployed.

      And of course all of this is moot if the drone is running autonomously.

  9. Alister

    Anything that will stop airports grounding planes during holibobs, really

    I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure...

    1. Ochib

      Re: Anything that will stop airports grounding planes during holibobs, really

      Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!

      It isn't fit for humans now,

      There isn't grass to graze a cow.

      Swarm over, Death!

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Anything that will stop airports grounding planes during holibobs, really

      We should aim said weapon from Ripley in Surrey

    3. OssianScotland

      Re: Anything that will stop airports grounding planes during holibobs, really

      Gatwick? That'd count as civic improvements.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Police drone to blame?!?

    Word on the grapevine is that while there is no evidence that the original sighting was actually a drone, the subsequent ones definitely were! In fact they were of a police drone sent up to try and spot the supposed original drone!

    Apparently, due to a lack of communication, the police drone was the one that caused the shutdown!

    This probably explains why the story went so quiet so quickly, but not before a knee-jerk reaction from the government introduced new legislation that now criminalizes children if they throw a paper dart within 3 miles of an airport!

    (Check it out: there is no minimum weight limit within the specified areas! It could even apply to a football!!!)

    It also probably explains why no-one was ever caught, and no plausible video evidence exists!

    Forgive the anonymous post, but I have no wish for my source to be compromised.....!

    1. batfink Silver badge

      Re: Police drone to blame?!?

      No wonder I can never find an exclamation mark when I need one. You appear to have used them all.

      1. Alister

        Re: Police drone to blame?!?

        According to the highly esteemed Sir PTerry:

        "Multiple exclamation marks," he went on, shaking his head, "are a sure sign of a diseased mind."

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Police drone to blame?!?

          F. Scott Fitzgerald once gave this advice: “Cut out all those exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.”

          1. m0rt

            Re: Police drone to blame?!?

            I laugh at my own jokes regularly.

            1. jake Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Police drone to blame?!?

              Nice that somebody does ...

              (This round's on me ... straight-men always deserve a beer in my book.)

              1. m0rt

                Re: Police drone to blame?!?

                "straight-men always deserve a beer in my book"

                I don't think that context came out as well as you intended....

                1. jake Silver badge
                  Pint

                  Re: Police drone to blame?!?

                  Given the context was obviously that of comedic foil, it would be rather difficult for it to come out any way but the way I intended. Unless the reader is looking for context that isn't there, of course, which is hardly the fault of the author.

                  Regardless, Shirley it's time for another round ...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    May we introduce ourselves?

    My colleagues and I at Sharks With Lasers On Their Heads Ltd believe we may have the perfect solution.

    While we normally focus our attention on water-borne challenges, our newest product is the "Fish out of water"(tm) tank. These tanks allow you to position your laser equipped shark away from more traditional locations and come with a number of optional extras to match your required climate.

    We have studies showing that consumers not only approve of our drone control methods, but that drone owners even look forward to the challenge. In addition, consumers also recognise the environmental friendliness of our shark-based solution.

    We would prefer our £2m paid using the large format cheque option for publicity purposes.

    We look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you.

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: May we introduce ourselves?

      Eagles mate. Thousands Tens of 'em.

      With lasers on their head if you can afford it, but maybe just sharpened metal claws...

      1. HamsterNet

        Re: May we introduce ourselves?

        A bird of prays claws does not need sharpening.

        There is a reason the handlers have thick, toughened and padded gloves.

        Drones stand zero chance.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: May we introduce ourselves?

          Didn't someone try this using a hawk to catch a drone? As I recall while the hawk attacked the drone the spinning props/blades on the drone cause a lot of pain and damage to the bird.

        2. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: May we introduce ourselves?

          "A bird of prays "

          What the Holy Hawk of Heathrow?

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: May we introduce ourselves?

            The Goshawk God of Gatwick?

      2. Crucial Decimal

        Re: May we introduce ourselves?

        Eagle vs Drone - for real: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr-xBtVU4lg

  12. lglethal Silver badge
    Go

    I'm a bit surprised...

    I know of at least 3 products on the market whose job is to do exactly this. Admittedly they arent cheap, but their have been numerous test events (by other governments) to identify the best solutions and get them ready to be installed.

    Are the UK gov, not talking to anyone else or not even bothering to look at whats available? Or are they just being tight a$$es and not wanting to pay for working systems? Or (most likely in my opinion) is this just another splashing of the quango cash to the usual suspects under the guise of "research projects"?

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: I'm a bit surprised...

      Links to kickstarter pages or they dont exist..... hang on a sec.....

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Go

        Re: I'm a bit surprised...

        Xpeller – Counter UAV System from Hensoldt Sensors (makers of military and civilian radar systems - so No not a kickstarter organisation). Also won the German Anti-drone competition (sorry cant find the link for that).

        https://www.hensoldt.net/solutions/air/electronic-warfare/xpeller-counter-uav-system/

        Anti-Drone (https://anti-drone.eu/)

        Cant say much about there actual capabilities.

        Dedrone

        www.dedrone.com

        Have heard they actually have a product on the market but not sure if that includes the take down capability or just the tracking.

        Raytheon, Boeing, Thales are all developing products but I dont think any of those have products on the market yet.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: I'm a bit surprised...

      Out of curiosity, in the Gatwick case did Openworks Engineering rush in to deploy their much hyped (and very British, don't you know) SkyWall 100? If so, how did it do? If not, why not? Asleep at the switch? Or just a boondoggle, as I suspect?

      Me, I'd suggest a 12 gauge, modified choke, magnum goose loads. Good out to 80 or 90 yards or a tick more (depending on the weather, the shooter, the gun, and the handloader). Any fairly proficient duck hunter should have no problem taking out a drone. (Special note for the hand-wringers: the collateral damage would be nil with this option, even at Heathrow or Gatwick).

  13. HamsterNet

    Easy solution

    I have a solution,

    Comes with Ultra HD light sensors capable of detecting a drone miles away.Super sensitive audio with the ability to differentiate between a drone and anything else in all environments. Can fly in all environments, well past what any drone can handle. Can identify a target in all environments.

    Self-navigating and return to base operation.

    Top speed of 240MPH. Flight time in the hours.

    Able to take out any drone, even ones performing evasive maneuvers.

    This tech has already been proven working for this exact job.

    It's called a Flacon and they already do it

    https://taskandpurpose.com/air-force-falcons-drones-research

    1. Thrudd the Barbarian

      Re: Easy solution

      My local aerodrome makes use of the services of a number of falconers.

      They now are also providing accommodations for those raptors that stay in residence to control the skyrat issues.

    2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Easy solution

      I for one am intrigued about these Flacons of which you speak....

      1. Nick Kew
        Pint

        Re: Easy solution

        After a flacon of ale, your spelling goes.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Easy solution

          And here I thought that flacon was harvested from flying pigs ...

      2. OssianScotland

        Re: Easy solution

        Flak-on?

        Should work against drones then. If it's an 88, use against ground vehicles is optional, but should deal with most airport parking problems very effectively.

  14. revenant

    Detecting and Tracking

    From my observation of local Crows or Jackdaws intercepting intruders, I suggest a flock of them fitted with beacons. Then detection and tracking becomes a simple job of providing a composite picture of likely targets based on their movements.

    Suitable targets can then be handed over to the Falcons (see HamsterNet above).

  15. YARR
    Boffin

    ... and return them safely to the Earth?

    What they require is an artificial chameleon tongue to reach the target, and artificial gecko-toes to cling onto it. OTOH if safety is less of a concern, another quadcopter flying above could induce vortex ring state on the target.

  16. Persona Silver badge

    Blockchain

    Sounds like a problem where a blockchain would work, and by that I mean a block on a chain that can be used to swat those pesky drones.

  17. TheProf
    Joke

    Bow and Arrow

    With the arrow attached to a long piece of string. But not too long as you don't want the arrow going over the boundary.

    Very low ammunition cost although you might have to buy some new string every time it gets entangled in tiny rotor blades.

    I've seen this sort of thing in DC and Marvel comics and the archers in those are always successful.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Bow and Arrow

      I've used that kind of thing when spear fishing. And chucking cable over hanging ceilings. Both options are usually quite successful, so you might be onto something.

  18. Frumious Bandersnatch

    spaghetti squash

    If the f=ma impact isn't enough to bollix it, then the stringy ejecta will bolas* the wanker.

    (*bolus, if you're into collective nouns. Trebuchet, Rodney! Trebuchet!)

  19. eldakka Silver badge

    Wonder if they'll pay for advice...

    to use good, old fashioned pompom's

  20. brianpope

    cannot un-invent technology

    @hammarbtyp

    "To bring it down the best way is probably to create hunter killer drones, that will track and disable other drones"

    Next move: Wingman drones that protect the "lead" drone by taking out the hunter-killer drones ? Swarms? whatever.

    Counter-value drone technology has been developed by a variety of interests including such as ISIS. Nothing can be done to uninvent these capabilities as even kids' toys now have more capability than some 10 year old military tech.

    Whether the Gatwick incident was real or staged is unimportant: Counter-force anti-drone technology is needed and any good new ideas could be useful.

    It will be a new arms race for the defense industry.

  21. Vimto

    As soon as I heard Amazon were doing deliveries using drones I immediately invested in a shotgun and a large net. Perhaps they could follow suit?

    Also FYI DVD players don't work too well with buckshot in them.

  22. JaitcH
    WTF?

    British Pilots Only Protecting Their Turf

    It seems, notwithstanding UK airspace is not the most congested, that it reports the highest number of drone 'incidents' real or imagined. The pilots professional association was rattling it's cage way back when drone ownership was in it's infancy.

    The very same pilots also seem to be equipped with super-human eyesight, they can spot drones at great distances and speeds regardless of colour. It has been scientifically proven that pilots eyes go 'unfocused' when faced with bland cloud formations.

    And rooftops filled with equipment sold to gullible governments will only disable vanilla type drones as the equipment assumes that drones are utilising Industrial, Scientific and Medical Radio Bands (ISM Band). Some systems are quite advanced and now employ spread spectrum technology.

    Drones aren't the only Unmanned Aeronautical objects floating around. How many reports have there been complaining about weather balloons - which assume really impressive sizes at height - or other miscellany that share airspace? Very few. Back in the time I worked near Gatwick and we regularly dispatched balloons and other things for the Met Office into the air.

    Readers should check their eyesight by looking out of a vehicle's side window and identify objects that pass through their vision. Really hard.

    And what is the real risk of colliding with one of these imaginary drones? Apart from the engines, aircraft are designed to pass air around them.

    Then there's Canada Geese. Without a doubt, the mass of a Canada Goose dwarfs that of most drones - yet British pilots don't seem to either see them or report them as hazards. Whilst Canada Geese have been seen as high as 9000 feet, Bar-headed Geese and Demoiselle Cranes actually fly at heights of up to almost 30,000 feet - but I guess British pilots are sleeping on autopilot at those climbs.

    If people wanted to really mess up airport operations they would stick a 30 watt VHF amplifier in their boot (trunk) fed by a jammer that covered the AM-FM band used by aircraft, and then drive around to avoid detection. That would really wind Gatwick up!

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    Researchers from the University of South Australia, Flinders University, and Australian defense company Midspar Systems found that to be the case when they teamed up to reverse-engineer the visual systems of hoverflies. Why? To improve acoustic drone detection software.

    Specifically, they wanted to use a bug's visual pathways to detect acoustic signals. It's the first time this particular approach has been taken, though insect vision has been used to improve detection systems in the past.

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  • Wing launches drone deliveries in the US where people actually live
    Everything's bigger in Texas, even the flying package-slinging robots

    Wing will this Thursday launch a commercial drone delivery service in a major US metropolitan area, a first for the Alphabet-owned startup.

    The company was spun out of X, Google's moonshot lab, in 2018 to build and operate a drone-delivery business. Since then, Wing has set up operations in Helsinki, Finland, and Canberra, Australia to bring shoppers all sorts of items, from biscuits to burgers, to their doors. It also operates in the US in Christiansburg, Virginia, and is expanding to its first urban area within the country this week: the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

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