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The drone rangers

Posted 14 January 2019 · Add Comment

The Middle East conflict zones are being used for testing and evaluating UAV and counter-UAV technologies from more than a dozen countries. David Oliver reports

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’s ability to drop targeted explosives from the air marks a new challenge for coalition forces engaged in supporting local forces in Iraq.
Recently, the US Department of Defense (DoD) asked Congress for an extra $20 million to help equip US troops with anti-drone technology.
This followed the threat posed by ISIL’s use of small commercial quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with small munitions attached.
New countermeasures have already been implemented, including Battelle’s drone defender, a hand-held directed-energy device that can neutralise drones at a distance of 400 metres. The device has already been deployed with US troops in Iraq.
The counter-UAV (C-UAV) system disrupts the adversary’s control of the drone so that no remote action, including detonation, can occur, minimising damage and risk to deployed forces.
The device utilises a non-kinetic solution to defend airspace against small quadrotor and hexarotor drones without compromising safety or risking collateral damage. The lightweight, point-and-shoot system requires no extensive training.
Another counter-drone variant deployed to the region is the anti-UAV defence system (AUDS) developed by a consortium of UK defence companies including Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics and Enterprise Control Systems.
The AUDS can detect, track, identify and defeat a UAV in approximately 15 seconds at a range of up to six miles and is in service with the US forces in both its field mast configuration and installed on Stryker vehicles.
It has more than 700 confirmed ‘kills’ and has been on continuous combat operations since it deployed to Iraq almost two years ago. It is designed to disrupt and neutralise UAVs, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), engaged in hostile airborne surveillance and potentially lethal activity.
Russia is heavily engaged in military operations in Syria and its forces have been targets for hostile UAV attacks. In January 2018, Russia claimed to have identified the launch location from where a swarm of armed drones began an attack on two of its military bases in western Syria.
Ten fixed-wing UAVs, rigged with explosive devices, descended over Russia’s Hmeimim Air Base, while a further three targeted the Russian Naval facility in the nearby city of Tartus.
Russia said it shot down seven drones using anti-aircraft missiles, while the other six were taken under control and force-landed by its military.
No casualties or significant damage was caused by the attack, which was reportedly launched from the village of Muwazarra in the southern Idlib province. The area around the village was designated a ‘de-escalation zone’ under an agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran but had been an area of conflict between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces backed by Turkey.
The Russian military base in Tajikistan held a special exercise to repel an attack of simulated enemy UAVs at night.
Russian counter-UAV systems, such as the Zhitel automatic jamming station, and Silok-01 UAV detection system, have been operationally tested in Syria, while the hand-held REX-1 counter-UAV system man-portable jammer, developed by Kalashnikov Group subsidiary ZALA Aero Group, is being issued to Russian Federation airborne troops.
The device relies on the jammer’s ability to cut the UAV off from its operator, communications bearer, and autonomous navigation capability, to neutralise the threat.
UAVs have also been playing an increasingly large part in another on-going military conflict in the Middle East – Operation Decisive Storm – which is the military campaign by the Saudi-led Arab coalition against the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthis.
More than 20 Arab coalition UAVs are reported to have been brought down since its air strikes on Yemen began more than three years ago.
Last October, the Houthis shot down a US MQ-9 Reaper long endurance unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) over the Yemeni capital, Saana. It was later revealed that the Houthis used an obsolete Soviet-era SA-2 Guideline (S-75) surface-to-air missile to shoot down the drone.
On August 30 this year, the Houthis shot down a Chinese CH-4 UCAV operated by the Saudi-led coalition over the al-Tul border crossing south of the Saudi province of Jizan, according to the Yemeni al-Masirah TV, although the weapons used were not revealed.
The CASC CH-4 is a tactical armed medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV being built under licence in Saudi Arabia. The pro-Houthi TV channel, Al-Masirah, said that coalition warplanes bombed the UCAV crash site to prevent the Houthis from acquiring any sensitive components.
Not only are the Houthis having some success in shooting down coalition UAVs, they are also attacking coalition targets in their own countries.
In May 2018, a spokesman for the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said that an air defence unit assigned to Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport detected an unidentified flying object heading towards the airport. The unit engaged the target and it was destroyed.
On inspection, the wreckage was identified as an Ababil UAV, a single-engine fixed-wing tactical UAV manufactured by Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA).
A development of the Ababil, the Qasef-1, is also operated by Houthi forces, who have used it to attack the radar components of the coalition’s MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missiles.
In November 2016, UAE Presidential Guard forces intercepted a truck carrying six partially assembled Qasef-1 UAVs in Yemen’s Ma’rib Governorate.
According to press reports, a Yemeni Qasef-1 UAV had carried out a similar attack on Abha International Airport in April 2018, temporarily closing it.
In July, security sources in Yemen confirmed that Arab coalition air defences had shot down a Houthi UAV after it attempted to target its headquarters in al-Braiqa, northwest of Aden. The sources said no casualties resulted from shooting down the drone, while the legitimate Yemeni forces shot down a third Iran-made Houthi UAV carrying explosives in the Durahemi district in Hodeidah.
Attacks by Yemen’s Houthi forces on transport infrastructure and economic targets in Saudi Arabia and coalition supporter, the UAE, have also been claimed.
On July 17 2018, the Yemeni Shiite militants attacked the Saudi Aramco refinery in Riyadh using a UAV. Although the claim was denied by the Saudi authorities, Aramco admitted that its fire control teams and the Saudi civil defence had contained a limited fire that erupted in a storage container at the refinery.
On July 26, the Houthis’ SABA news agency reported that one of its UAVs had carried out an attack on Abu Dhabi International Airport. Citing a military official, it said the raid was carried out by a fixed-wing Sammad-3 UAV that had recently been added to the Houthi arsenal.
A month later, Houthi media released a statement saying a Sammad-3 UAV had inflicted heavy losses in a raid on Dubai International Airport. The group said the FlightRadar24 website, which tracks aircraft worldwide using their transponders, had confirmed that several flights had been delayed at Dubai.
The UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) later denied the Yemeni rebel claim and stated that air traffic movement was normal with no disruptions.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are looking to increase their counter-UAV capability and the Australian company, DroneShield, recently reported that it had taken an order for 70 DroneGuns worth $3.2 million from an unnamed Middle East country, which it described as allied with western governments.
DroneGun Tactical is a hand-held device that provides a safe countermeasure against a wide range of UAVs, allowing for the controlled management of payloads, such as explosives.
In addition, a UAE delegation recently visited a number of companies that manufacture anti-drone systems in France and Finland.
One of the French companies, Communications & Systèmes, is a specialist in mission-critical systems that builds the Milad mobile counter-UAV system, which is a military version of its Boreades civil system.
Communications & Systèmes is the integrator of the Milad system that includes a 360-degree 3-D radar from the Canadian unit of FLIR Systems, which also supplies the cameras. The company has demonstrated its Boreades system to delegations from both Saudi Arabia the UAE.

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