back to article An anti-drone system that sneezes targets to death? Would that be a DARPA project? You betcha

Until recently, the variously camouflaged, partially stealthed and fully invisibility-cloaked boffins at DARPA – Uncle Sam's most famous left-field military research institute – had a problem. The United States' somewhat exuberant past foreign policy decisions mean that American troops frequently find themselves driving slowly …

  1. My-Handle

    Well, better than the Team America approach.

    Of course, caution will still have to be used. I imagine a drone falling out of the sky in an urban environment may cause a bit of a headache for anyone unfortunate enough to be underneath, pink silly-string or not. Still, a neat enough idea.

    1. Tom7

      Especially if it's loaded with half a kilo of plastic explosive.

      It's interesting that the interceptor appears to be a sort of drone but one that uses two contra-rotating propellers and (presumably) variable pitch to control attitude rather than just using another off-the-shelf quadcopter, especially for demo purposes.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      Sure a falling explosive laden drone is bad

      But if this defense keeps your drones from being able to attack the desired targets, why would you keep using them and wasting your plastic explosives?

      The only danger to bystanders is if this defense "sorta works" so say 2/3 of the drones are stopped by 1/3 get through and can attack the HumVee or whatever. Then they might still be tempted to use it despite inflicting collateral damage on their own side.

      Anyway, if you can't stop an explosive laden drone without collateral damage, are you saying that the US forces should let it hit them to save the civilian population?

      1. very angry man

        Re: Sure a falling explosive laden drone is bad


      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Sure a falling explosive laden drone is bad

        > stop an explosive laden drone without collateral damage

        Collateral damage is never an issue: Those people there don't vote, your soldiers and their families do, so that's where your priorities lie. Besides, official propaganda will make sure the locals are globally considered as bloodthirsty terrorists by the people back home, so taking some out is never a problem as long as you can pretend it was in self-defense.

        The only problem with collateral damage is nosy journalists, that's why the Army always tries to keep control of information: We don't want any terrorist-fancier journalist badmouth our army, do we...

      3. Wyliecyote

        Re: Sure a falling explosive laden drone is bad

        Or perhaps the US should simply not be there..?

        Radical thought I know...

    4. Filippo Silver badge

      Yeah, but it's not their drone. I'm not a very big fan of military occupations in general, but they can hardly be blamed for failing to safely disable someone else's flying bomb.

      1. swm

        During the Vietnam war US pilots would dive towards Russian missiles aimed at them causing the missile to turn enough to tumble their gyros. They went out of control and dropped onto the enemy city. The pilots were told to stop doing this.

        1. Charles 9

          Because this was just a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The fear wasn't so much of Vietnamese death but Soviet deaths that could be considered provocation. That's also why the whole Rules of Engagement thing and why Hanoi was off limits: they didn't want to risk triggering World War III.

  2. KittenHuffer Silver badge

    I for one .....

    ..... welcome our new flying, snot sneezing, robotic overlords!

    1. G Watty What?

      Re: I for one .....

      I imagine the drones are praying for "the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief"

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: I for one .....

        Can I be the first to suggest the company anthem "I'd rather be a hanky than a snot" to the tune of the Simon & Garfunkel classic about hammers and nails.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Who you gonna call?

      Looks like a weaponized slime drone. May come in handy if there is another invasion from the afterlife.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actually ....

    .... from a technical perspective that was actually pretty impressive. Difficult to judge distance/size/scale but both drones were moving, the DARPA one seemed to be swinging around a fair bit but it still managed to hit the other one with a fairly tightly defined blast of pink goo at a reasonable range.

    From the article description I was expecting something that just wildly sprayed pink goo everywhere!

  4. batfink

    Loitering/multiple targets?

    Hmm. This looks like a good solution. However, what happens if there's another drone after this one? Does this thing have multiple-shot capability, and can it loiter around for a while if needed?

    The other weakness I'd guess at is the range at which you'd pick up an "enemy" drone. In the demo, the Killer Pink Goo Drone takes a while to match speeds with the "enemy", target it and bring it down. And that was in a wide open field. How well would this work in an urban environment, with multiple incoming?

    I suppose you could eventually make these with enough loitering capability to form a mobile screen around your forces while you drive around in places where you're not popular.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Loitering/multiple targets?

      I suppose you could eventually make these with enough loitering capability to form a mobile screen around your forces while you drive around in places where you're not popular.

      The Detroit Police Department has already placed an order.

    2. My-Handle

      Re: Loitering/multiple targets?

      I don't know why your comment in particular gave my brain a nudge, but I suddenly had a vision of a handful of assassin drones with little protective umbrellas over the props rushing at a swarm of loitering anti-drone drones.

      I appear to be occupying a strange headspace this morning. Clearly it's a lack of caffeine / alcohol (delete whichever is appropriate according to local time and custom).

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Loitering/multiple targets?

        Unfortunately, physics gets in the way of umbrellas over the props as they need good airflow both above and below to get the hovering business right.

        Plus, as others have noted, what happens if the drones are programmed to fail deadly and just go off if they're destined to hit the deck because they care less about collateral damage?

        1. Cynic_999

          Re: Loitering/multiple targets?

          It would be very difficult for anyone to care less about collateral damage than American soldiers (or drones) on foreign soil.

          1. MiguelC Silver badge

            Re: "care less about collateral damage" championship

            strong contenders are Israel vs. the Palestinian occupied territories (or any bit of Palestine, for the matter) and Hamas vs. Israel

          2. MyffyW Silver badge

            Re: Loitering/multiple targets?

            @Cynic_999 no great fan of anyone's armed forces, but our American cousins do try not to create collateral damage, whilst less scrupulous nations don't give a rat's ass whether they pollute the West Country with nerve agent or Central London with Polonium.

            1. Cynic_999

              Re: Loitering/multiple targets?


              ... our American cousins do try not to create collateral damage, whilst less scrupulous nations don't give a rat's ass whether they pollute the West Country with nerve agent or Central London with Polonium.


              Erm ... Agent Orange?

          3. Onen hag Oll

            Re: Loitering/multiple targets?

            Bearing in mind that the drone will be targeting something irrespective of what's around it, collateral damage to the surrounding area is hardly foremost in the minds behind the drone. It could be argued that any collateral damage caused by the drone being brought down by itself would be far less than the drone plus the intended target.

        2. MarkSitkowski

          Re: Loitering/multiple targets?

          As far as I remember, the cruise missile has a map in its head, which is refreshed every morning, to cater for snowfall and other terrain-altering events. When in-flight, on a mission, if it gets lost, the default is to attack whatever is below.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Loitering/multiple targets?

            > if it gets lost, the default is to attack whatever is below.

            Only if it's a male missile. Female missiles stop and ask for directions...

  5. herman Silver badge

    The Great Argle Seizure

    Someone missed a great opportunity for an appropriate name.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: The Great Argle Seizure

      * snot bot

      * SN33Z3

      * Autonomous Combat Helicopter Ordinance Obliterator (A.C.H.O.O.)

      * The Pink Mist (Halo reference)

      * Super Silly String Sting

      (coat please)

  6. Mog_X

    .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

    Isn't that what happens in most US cities on July 4th?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

      No, you are thinking of Gaza any day of the week. Hamas then blames the deaths of their own errant gunfire on Israel.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

        "No, you are thinking of Gaza any day of the week. Hamas then blames the deaths of their own errant gunfire on Israel."

        The problem that I saw was firing a load of dumb rockets towards an adversary that was likely to respond with more capable missiles and high tech aircraft. Best to pick fights where there is a very good chance you will win.

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

          I get the impression the point wasn't to win. Hamas weren't doing a great job domestically, and an external enemy is great for unifying a population. Same for Netanyahu (who did't receive quite enough of a bounce, as it turns out).

          It's undeniable that Hamas and Netenyahu did each-other more of a favour then they did their respective electorates.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

      Well, to be fair, in a number of the countries US forces operate in, it's not that unusual for there to be many guns fired into the air for all sorts of celebrations, including weddings. I wonder if there's any stats for injuries or deaths from all these stray bullets?

      1. Julz

        Re: .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

        Not sure about small arms but anti aircraft fire and it's inevitable return to the ground of the shells, in the second world war London Blitz(es) is recorded as causing from 1/3 to 1/2 of all the casualties. Firing 3" and larger navel guns in the air over London hoping to hit an aircraft probably wasn't one of the best decisions the wartime government made.

        1. MiguelC Silver badge

          Re: .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

          Wouldn't navel guns just shoot fluff? Might be disgusting but probably not deadly

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge

            Re: .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

            yeah a 16 inch turret gun on an offshore battleship shooting silly string projectiles to take out a few drones...

            (that would be *EPIC* and funny as hell at the same time)

          2. Julz

            Re: .. spraying the whole city with small-arms fire?

            The ever present danger of dyslexia and relying on spell checking. Good image though ;)

  7. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker
    Thumb Up

    For the Schlock Mercenary fans

    Sounds like "goober rounds" to me!

    (Except they haven't figured out the respiration detect-and-protect nanomotile effect for living meat yet.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For the Schlock Mercenary fans

      "Boing" is what they really needed.

      If the Judges can trap Death with it, its probably good for jihadi purchases from Maplin.

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Re: For the Schlock Mercenary fans

        Squaxx dek Thargos FTW!!

  8. s. pam Silver badge

    spraying pink spunk doesn't solve the problem

    having Drone Vs. Drone wars won't work as when the nasty drone comes down, things will likely still go BOOM.

    hasn't DARPA read Spy vs. Spy in Mad magazine?

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: spraying pink spunk doesn't solve the problem

      Upvoted for Spy vs Spy reference.

    2. Martin Gregorie

      Re: spraying pink spunk doesn't solve the problem

      In fact it adds another problem: bystanders getting pink gooey snot dumped on them.

      Its all very well pooting out clouds of that stuff on a test range, but cities tend to contain crowds of uninvolved civilians, so if you happened to be one of them I wonder easy it would be to get the pink snot fallout out of your hair and off your clothes and disentangled with those nearby who also got hit by the same snot cloud.

      Bear in mind that the snot cloud looked to be quite a bit bigger than the target drone, so quite capable of gluing several people together.

      1. batfink

        Re: spraying pink spunk doesn't solve the problem

        Uninvolved civilians? That's fine. The pink goo makes them easily identified as perps, rounded up and slung into prison. As should anybody in the vicinity of an attack on Our Glorious Freedom-Loving Forces.

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: spraying pink spunk doesn't solve the problem

        I think you're assuming the "snot cloud" is closer in consistency to superglue than it needs to be. It just needs to impede the drone's rotors enough that it can't maintain altitude. Looking at the video, the drone slowly loses altitude before presumably things get clogged up enough the rotors stop turning altogether and it falls out of the sky.

        At worst it has the consistency of chewing gum (probably not even that) and while that might be a pain to get out of your hair it is better than having bullets that missed the target falling on your head from a couple miles up.

        1. Martin Gregorie

          Re: spraying pink spunk doesn't solve the problem

          I think you're assuming the "snot cloud" is closer in consistency to superglue than it needs to be.

          Not at all: what I was thinking of was something more like the epoxy-based gunk that's used to seal chimney-stack flashings etc and make sure they stay stuck down. That looks like thick, grey gravy and contains a lot of chopped glass fibre.

          To do what the video shows, you need two components: something fibrous to get wound round the drone and its rotors and some form of contact glue to instantly make everything into a single mass. Superglue doesn't actually stick that fast, but contact cements do.

          So, keep the glass fibre strands but replace the epoxy gravy with some variety of contact cement in a fast-evaporating carrier and there's your anti-drone system: as the gloop-cloud expands, the carrier evaporates and the fibres become sticky rather than slippery, so they stick to the rotors and each other until the initially spread-out mess gets thoroughly tangled together around the rotors and drone body, at which point the rotors can no longer spin and the drone drops out of the sky as the video showed.

          I think this explains why the almost-invisible cloud didn't do much at first, but then quite rapidly congealed into a dark mass stuck to the falling drone at about the time that the rotors stopped.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge

          Re: spraying pink spunk doesn't solve the problem

          when high speed rotors are spinning, a sight out-of-balance is all you need to cause catastrophic failure in a short period of time. Severe vibration, blades strike shrouds, or blades break off. All bad for Mr. Drone, who will soon have a very, very bad day.

  9. Grumpy Scouse Git

    There is an easier way.........

    Argentinian football fans came up with an easier & cheaper way to disable drones ....... toilet rolls!!

    1. Chris G

      Re: There is an easier way.........

      That was a superb throw on the part of the fan and shows just how easy it is to disable a drone.

      One of the problems in many urban environments are the huge number of overhead power and telephone cables, that may be more of a problem for the pink snot fairy than the attackers unless it has lidar or similar to sense its surroundings as well as the attacker.

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: There is an easier way.........

        "overhead power and telephone cables"

        Not so much of a problem. Power systems built using bare medium voltage overhead conductors (4-34kV) are usually designed to tolerate temporary contact with tree limbs and other crud. There will be an arc. But the pink snot will be burned clear rather easily. As far as insulated communications cables, go take a look at how many pairs of sneakers are hanging from them in some neighborhoods. No harm done.

        1. Chris G

          Re: There is an easier way.........

          I was thinking more about drones negotiating their way through the cables, particulary the defensive one which gave the impression of autonomy. I would guess in most places, attackers would be controlling their drone and guiding it to the target.

  10. Logiker72


    The Israeli "IAI Harop" is not using helo rotors. Rather it is a miniature plane which comes down Stuka-/Kamikaze like in the final few seconds.

    Seems DARPA is several years behind the threat.

    And dont believe for a second this is not a problem because Israel is on your side. Others can recreate the Harop with moderate resources and finances.

    1. Logiker72

      Armenian War

      If reports are to be believed, HAROP destroyed the Armenian tanks and even air defence guns/launchers. It won the war for the Turk(ic)s.

      Armenia has ZSU23s and the more modern Truck-based radar flak weapon. Was apparently useless against heavy turkic jamming and the HAROPs which are operating like self-controlled robots.

      1. Logiker72

        Re: Armenian War

        Robots have already won a war, just the sleepy folks around the globe haven't figured yet.

        1. Logiker72

          Re: Armenian War

          China is very impressed, too:

    2. Stevie

      Re: Seems DARPA is several years behind the threat.

      So you missed the part that went "cheap, capable, commercially available drones" then?

      From Wikipedia:

      In September 2009, the Indian Air Force announced that it will be inducting the Harop systems purchased for US$100 million "for up to 10 drones".

      10 million apiece No note on whether that includes the remote operating station to drive them.

      I believe the threat isn't where you think it is either.

      1. Logiker72

        Re: Seems DARPA is several years behind the threat.

        This is cutting edge technology. India had to pay premium for access to kill-capable robot AI technology.

        Incremental HW costs for a lawn-mower-engine powered aircraft are certainly closer to 200k$.

        1. Stevie

          Re: Seems DARPA is several years behind the threat.

          5kg lift capability, less than 10K, and can hover.

          I feel you are reaching for an horizon only you can see.

    3. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Turkey, not Israel, is the drone danger-man

      Israel, like USA, is running the big high-tech route. Turkey is leaning into the core feature of drones-as-weapons: cheap and hence plentiful.

      Look up mfr Baykar --a very successful pivot from car parts-- and its current workhorse, the Bayraktar TB2. In particular, check out the first full spec use of drone tactics: Operation Spring Shield, Turkey vs Syria/Russia, using massed TB2s. 2020, late Feb to June.

      Price: mere tens of millions for a unit of 6, including drones, ground units, all operations kit. They are also reusable, with 4 strikes before rearmament. "Glass cannons", but fully effective, and cheap.

      As Turkey's head of military industry said: if you lose one, two, three, it doesn't matter as long as others find a target.

  11. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    Did anybody else feel sorry for that poor drone trying desperately to right itself? It looked like it almost had it for a second, until one of the props gave out completely...

  12. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Watch out for

    The anti-anti-drone drone drones. That is the one that flies 'shotgun' for the real attack drone and takes down the anti-drone drone first, or just lures it away while the attack drone continues on its merry way to self destruction. All it needs to do is self-detonate when it detects pink (or any other colour) goo in the air, spraying anti-drone missiles in the right direction. This could be quite an expensive arms race.

  13. jvf

    Looks useful

    Nice! When will they be available for purchase?

  14. Anonymous Coward

    S'not bad

    For a demonstration system it seems worthy of further development (although their anti-drone laser is cooler.

    But I wonder if snot could be applied to anti space junk proposals?

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: S'not bad

      > But I wonder if snot could be applied to anti space junk proposals?

      Not really, most satellites not having those little flimsy propellers you can gunk up to make them drop out of the sky...

      As for the idea to shoot a huge cloud of solid sticky stuff up there, I'm sure satellite operators will love it!... And it would have to be extra-solid (multi-layer Kevlar style), lest the largely supersonic space junk just flies through it like a bullet through a paper handkerchief.

  15. TDog

    Delta V

    Ignoring the kill mechanism any KE system has to get to the targets before they get into a fatal (kill zone PK > whatever dependent on cost and availability) capacity. Historically this is remarkably difficult; targets are usually much bigger than interceptors and have more cost price vulnerability, Consider 1 hummer + a system capable of intercepting 20 drones (unlikely from the model shown) at 75%. That leaves 5 drones free to play.

    And 20 drones probably cost much less than the defensive kit which is now useless. Usually air defence systems work on two factors; planes and training cost much more than missiles, and bods become somewhat constrained in their actions if they think they are going to get twatted.

    Neither of these factors apply to drones.

    So the equation changes again.

    Shit happens.

  16. 2Fat2Bald

    I'd say this needs further work in order to become useful. I see the target drone flying straight-and-level at significant altitude and not attempting to evade the interceptor at all. It might do that - in theory - if it's flying GPS waypoints. But with a human at the controls it's going to be flying low and probably dodging around buildings trees and so on and is likely to react to the presence of the interceptor by flying away. Also the launch vehicle seems pretty close to the drone, which may be unlikely to happen in operational use.

    1. Charles 9

      The possible scenario here is a fire-and-forget drone that is able to fly autonomously without further direction. That's a tough one to beat without some direct method because at that point it's self-contained and can't otherwise be redirected. A directed drone will need a live link which can be jammed and/or tracked.

  17. Evil Genius

    Will it be available in the U.K?

    Asking for an airport.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      IIRC UK airport-bothering drones are invisible, which would make shooting them down considerably more challenging...

  18. Not previously required

    Makes you want to stand to attention and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

    Shorely shome mishtake

    Makes you want to take the knee and .... wonder what the hell is happening to the world

  19. aregross

    UFOs anyone?

    I'm surprised this hasn't been brought up to capture/kill a UFO.

  20. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Shotgun v rifles

    Shotgun rounds don't go 2.5 miles downrange. The silly string idea is good but the casing could be a problem when it comes down.

  21. Twanky

    Based on an idea described in 1955... John Wyndham in 'The Chrysalids' (for USAians: 'Re-Birth' (thanks,

  22. lukewarmdog

    Stop the pigeon

    This goo idea seems to have “pay and spray” built in as no doubt goo refills are pricey and need dedicated techs to do the replacing if you’re not going to invalidate your warranty. I seem to remember dastardly and muttly had a plane with a net to scoop up their target. There was also a flying anvil, a pair of cymbals, baseball bat / mitt.. DARPA need to get in touch with the Hanna-Barbera studio for new ideas.

    Also what happened to the water cannons the U.K. spaffed money on? Surely we could sell those as an alternative to the hummer/drone package?

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