The counter-drone weapon known as Skyshield. (Photo: Oerlikon Skyshield Air Defence System)

Foreign Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems: Developments in the International Arms Markets

Counter-UAV Technologies Are Evolving in Response to Weaponization

Over the last decade the numbers, types, and capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) available to military forces, domestic security forces, non-state actors, commercial interests, and even private citizens have grown substantially. Offerings range from large, expensive fixed-wing high-altitude/long- endurance UAVs, which are affordable only to nation states, down to low-cost, low-flying small and micro vertical take-off- and-landing (VTOL) models available to everyone. Both armed and unarmed models are marketed. Some unarmed models are being upgraded with aftermarket lethal capabilities by third parties or private individuals using do-it-yourself techniques.

Today, some kind of UAV capability is available to virtually all nations, non-state actors, commercial interests, and individuals. Availability is now generally a function of the price point, rather than technological or regulatory constraints. UAVs are becoming ubiquitous.

The capabilities of both large and small UAVs are constantly evolving. They are becoming faster, capable of carrying heavier and more diverse payloads, have longer endurance, and are more autonomous. At the same time, economies of scale are driving down costs of both large and small UAVs.

UAVs offered in the international arms market have attributes that make them formidable military tools. They can distract, disorient, and disrupt military operations, as well as provide direct and indirect support to destroying military equipment and structures. Likewise, some individuals and groups have taken advantage of the wide-scale availability of small commercial UAVs for malicious purposes. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), for example, has weaponized small commercial drones using improvised grenades as a lethal payload. Other individuals and groups have used small UAVs to overfly sensitive military and infrastructure facilities, fly in restricted airspace around airports, and spy on famous personalities and their neighbors. Two years ago, an individual even landed a small UAV carrying a bottle with traces of radioactive material onto the roof of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office.

Predictably, demand from military, police, and homeland security agencies for technical counters to UAVs is growing. Counter-UAV systems are now a major marketing thrust at international arms and homeland security exhibitions. Options offered encompass a wide variety of approaches, including: (1) destroying the UAV, (2) deceiving or evading on-board sensors, (3) disrupting/jamming navigation systems and data links, (4) third-parties taking control of the UAV, and (5) catch/capture systems. A few systems combine several of those approaches. International arms trade shows now offer the full spectrum of countermeasures designed to deal with both large and small UAVs, but with a heavy emphasis on kinetic approaches that destroy UAVs. Security exhibitions, on the other hand, generally concentrate on non-kinetic/not-destructive counters targeted at small, low-flying UAVs.

This work was done by Andrew Hull and David Markov for the Institute for Defense Analyses. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) below. IDA-0003


This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Foreign Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems: Developments in the International Arms Markets

(reference IDA-0003) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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