Star Wars, Iron Dome, Digital Shields – the evolving struggle for protection against UAVs

It’s reminiscent of former US president Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars plan. His Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) was a proposed missile defence shield intended to protect the United States from attack by ballistic strategic nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War. It was a prescient initiative, given than the tech involved with that proposal is still being developed today.

In this brave new world where drones are both ubiquitous and nuisances over cities, their presence at airports serves as ominous with the potential for sabotage on a huge scale. The sightings of drones at Heathrow and Gatwick airports just before Christmas last year caused mayhem as the airports were closed affecting the plans of many travellers.

Enter the Virtual Dome. According to an article in British website The Standard, giant virtual domes which protect runways from rogue drones could be introduced at British airports to prevent a repeat of the chaos that grounded hundreds of Christmas flights.

“The multi-million-pound, 30-mile-high digital shields, based on a similar principle to Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile technology, can seek out and jam unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and then locate their operator by tracking remote control signals,” The Standard reported.

The tech for this is potentially coming from German firm Aaronia, which developed the shields.

“The digital dome is created by up to six mushroom-like tracking antennae around the airport perimeter, which can be hooked up to heavy-duty laptops to create a drone-hunting mobile unit,” The Standard reported. “It locks on to a drone’s radio frequency to track and jam it as a three-dimensional topographic map flags its location, and that of the operator.”

The article states that it has a an “extremely high detection range” of more than 160,000ft in the air and has the capability not to confuse a drone with any other flying object.

“We have 360-degree dome coverage so even if a drone flies very high we could detect it,” Thorsten Chmielus, Aaronia’s chief executive, told The Standard. “You can catch the operator because we can see where they are and we can see where the drone is flying. We also get a prediction to see where the drone will fly in the next 20 seconds. Then you can really see what the target of the drone might be. Then you simply shut down the airport for a few minutes, catch the guy and reopen again.”

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