Counter-UAV systems combat: tomorrow’s battle

The war in Ukraine has dramatically revealed the extent of the use of UAV systems in conflict zones. The development of UAV systems-related issues and risks represents a major challenge for the coming years, on both military and civilian levels.  » UAV systemsare now an integral part of equipment, in the air, on land, on and under the sea. They are a feature of tomorrow’s combat« , according to the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, as part of the 2024-2030 Military Programming Law. In a context where commercial UAV systems have become accessible and can easily be deployed as weapons with lethal and destructive effects, counter-UAV systems warfare is a priority for national security.


Detection: the first milestone in the counter- UAV systems doctrine

Detecting malicious UAV systemsis one of the major challenges facing France as the 2024 Olympic Games approach. While technological solutions exist, notably to ensure effective protection of sensitive sites, detecting UAV systemsin urban environments is becoming more problematic. « Intrusion into an urban environment is a worst-case scenario. The electro-magnetic environment is dense, and the threat is highly varied« , explained Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Viala, of the Air Brigade’s Permanent Air Security Posture, at the Safe Cluster event last October. The installation of detection and jamming equipment is also more difficult in urban areas. This is particularly true when it comes to protecting prisons. « You don’t want to alienate the locals. In the Paris area, some prisons have plots of land listed as historical monuments, which makes it difficult to install equipment« , points out Captain Antoine Pau, head of the counter-UAV systems project at the French Prison Service. As he points out, « 100% efficacy doesn’t work. Hackers will know how to hijack counter-UAV systems. That’s why we need to be as close as possible to the feedback from experience to adapt to changing threats.

While there is no such thing as zero risk, French manufacturers are working hard to find innovative technological solutions to meet these threats. French manufacturer CS Group has implemented the BOREADES solution. Flexible, intuitive, and highly automated, the solution deploys a real-time command and control (C2) system specifically designed for counter- UAV systems operations. C2 is the heart and intelligence of the system, providing the operator with a reliable tactical platform. France is home to a number of detection solutions. UAV systems XTR, the French leader in civilian UAV systems detection, has developed UAV systems capable of detecting up to 10km away, which is both autonomous and passive and can be fixed or mobile. The challenge for the future will be to respond to proliferating threats, such as UAV systems swarms, which cause saturation, or autonomous UAV systems with no radio links, which are harder to detect and neutralise by jamming.

Technological solutions: between innovation and adaptation

Technological solutions are developing, but they must constantly adapt to the threat. « The counterUAV systems R&D budget is still too low. The cost of owning commercial UAV systems with malicious intent is within everyone’s reach« , explains Aurelia Pujol, Business Development, Anti-Drone, CS Group. The detection-identification-neutralisation doctrine enables solutions to be developed in a methodical manner. Identification determines whether UAV systems are friendly or malicious. It is therefore essential to integrate identification solutions before neutralisation. Neutralisation techniques are tried and tested and have been developed by a number of manufacturers, such as MC2 Technologies, which offers a gun that jams the communication system between UAV systems and their radio control system on seven frequencies. The UAV is then forced to stop and eventually land or return to its base, depending on the configuration.

Currently, reaction times are too short, so it is essential that public and private players work together to find the best solutions to counter the various threats, whether they come from the air, land, or sea.

Public-private partnerships: a necessity

Effective, resilient UAV systems control requires the development of public-private partnerships at both the national and European levels. To achieve this, changes to the legal framework are essential. « The State’s action plan consists of developing the legal framework, developing doctrines and participating in the development of technological solutions« , says Colonel Boris Pomirol of the Interministerial Mission for Air Safety of the General Secretariat for Defence and National Security (SGDSN).

In concrete terms, Article 27 of the 2024-2030 Military Programming Law provides for state services to use all technical means to combat malicious UAV systems. It will also be necessary to examine the right of private operators to detect malicious UAV systems in order to develop the public-private security continuum.

The fight against malicious UAV systems represents a major challenge for the UAV systems industry. By 2028, the UAV systems market will be worth 63 billion euros, compared with 38 billion this year. France has solid foundations in the industry, with flagship companies in the Defense industry and technology ecosystem, which the French government will need to support if it is to assert itself in the UAV systems market.

An international race for the UAV Systems of tomorrow

The UAV systems race of tomorrow involves many different States. With the UAV systems market booming, numerous innovations are being deployed. For example, Turkey is counting on the Bayraktar TB2 tactical UAV systems, dubbed the « Kalashnikov of the 21st century », which is winning over many States, notably in Africa.

Against a backdrop of high-intensity conflicts, governments are drawing up agreements, particularly for the delivery of UAV systems for military use. Through the intermediary of the French government, Delair is delivering 150 UAV systems to the Ukrainian armed forces. Australia also had the opportunity to deliver cardboard-structured UAV systems to Ukraine last spring.

Current and future conflicts will see the use of UAV systems increase. The development of UAV systems-related threats represent a major challenge to guaranteeing peace and national defence. The 4G and 5G connectivity of UAV systems will enable pirates to pilot malicious UAV systems from abroad. While human and technological solutions do exist, the battle on the counter-UAV systems front is set to intensify.