The US has developed a drone interceptor that fires what appears to be a form of Silly String into their rotors, bringing them down with minimal risk of accidental damage.
The interceptor was created by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It is launched from a vehicle and guided by radar that can automatically identify and track small drones.
Once the interceptor has a target drone in sight, it releases string-like streamers – their exact composition is unknown – to disable it. The system can also launch multiple interceptors to deal with several incoming drones simultaneously, and the interceptors are reusable.
DARPA says it wants to provide drone defences for convoys and other mobile units in heavily populated areas, where normal military weapons would create too much risk of civilian casualties. Existing interceptor drones, like the Coyote already used by the US military, carry an explosive warhead, while other projects rely on nets or ramming, which require more precise aiming.
The agency has also developed other, unspecified, non-explosive anti-drone weapons and another interceptor which resembles a small aircraft, but hasn’t released a video demonstrating them. They should also be safer than explosive countermeasures.
“The issue of a hostile drone – potentially with explosives attached to it – falling to the ground and possibly injuring civilians exists,” says Robert Bunker, security analyst with C/O Futures. “But it’s a far better option than targeting such a drone with indiscriminate machine gun fire.”
Because it doesn’t require explosives, this type of interceptor might also be suitable for civilian use, such as defending airports, sports stadiums and other vulnerable sites. But Bunker notes that, if interceptors become common, counter-countermeasures will evolve.
“We could see a type of escalation where hostile fighter drones protect the bomber ones from the counter-drones, as we see with manned-aircraft,“ he says.
Jack Watling of UK defence think tank RUSI says that the streamer-firing interceptor appears conceptually sound, but the reliability and cost of the system may still be issues. From a military viewpoint it has only one function; unlike most weapons it cannot be used against other targets, which may make it unpopular, he says. “I would be surprised if this particular concept becomes widely fielded within the military.”
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