The latest wars in our region, in which Turkish drones have played a key role, have justifiably, albeit perhaps excessively, alarmed military analysts around the world.
Although the threat was dramatic in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, it has been around for several years and we have had a taste of it in the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and Libya.
“Thanks to advanced Turkish drones belonging to the Azerbaijani army, our losses at the front have shrunk,” Azeri President Ilam Aliyev told a Turkish television channel.
“These aircraft show the strength of Turkey and that strengthens us,” he added.
Modern fighter jets are admittedly very expensive and the risk of death or capture of their pilots in the event of a crash is a concern.
Drones are a much cheaper and a more versatile tool, especially in small-scale battlefields, such as in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Mike Fowler, an associate professor of military and intelligence, told US state radio that for countries with limited air power capabilities, drones provide a low-cost alternative to extending strike capabilities and providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Reusable drones and kamikaze drones
While most drones can perform tactical reconnaissance and transmit data and video to a ground station, or even launch missiles at targets, others can incorporate explosives, allowing them to crash into targets.
These are known as “lodging” or “loitering ammunition”, or unofficially “kamikaze drones”.
Another use for drones is to detect the frequencies of enemy radars as they attempt to detect and trap drones.
Frequency detection then allows aircraft to hit radars with anti-radar missiles, such as the AGM-88 HARM.
The latter are in the arsenals of the Greek and Turkish Air Forces.
The main problem in fighting drones or UAVs is the detection of small and low flying targets.
The current level of technology in the production of drones (use of plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber and foam synthetic material in their construction) can provide radar cross-section values from 0.1 to 0.005 m2.
In addition, the use of economically low-power engines makes their flights almost silent, which also complicates the process of tracking, identifying and tracking the target.
Dealing with drones
Dealing with the threat posed by drones requires the development of measures to detect, monitor, identify, evaluate and make decisions.
In practice, this means a wide range of different offensive and defensive approaches to strategies for destroying as many drones as possible to protect high-value targets.
Detection of small drones requires the use of sophisticated tools and equipment.
They are used passively (radio frequency detectors, headphones, integrated opto-electronic means, anti-aircraft systems, optical surveillance positions), as well as active means (radar). There are various units of the armed forces with a mission to deal with drones, which perform separate tasks.
The detection of electronic equipment in drones and the determination of their operating frequencies is done by terrestrial electronic information systems.
Electronic warfare units are responsible for locating and blocking enemy drones.
Artillery radars have the ability to detect them even if they are at a short distance from direct fire against the stations on the ground they control (GCS).
Also, each military installation has security forces with communication and data transmission equipment and visual surveillance tools for detecting small-scale and low-contrast targets.
In other words, the staff is required to be vigilant and to observe the aerial environment closely.
Information consolidation system
The first thing to deal with is the design of a command and control system (Command and Control – C2) with the ability to integrate information from all these systems to improve the overall interaction and exchange of information.
Such a system is responsible for monitoring whether a drone is identified as friendly or hostile, as well as reacting against a drone, based on the assessment of the threat level.
There are several ways to prevent drone attacks, both destructive and non-destructive.
The most obvious is shooting.
Various weapons can be used for this purpose. Thus, small light drones can be shot down with the help of light weapons and anti-aircraft artillery, while anti-aircraft missile systems can shoot down larger drones flying at higher altitudes.
State-of-the-art countries are developing electromagnetic weapons, microwaves, lasers, as well as advanced “conventional weapons” to destroy enemy drones.
Characteristics of the US Air Force is testing in real conditions in Africa, a prototype microwave that breaks drones, called the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responsonder – THOR).
THOR uses high-power microwaves to “bake” drone electronics, shooting down swarms at short distances. If anti-aircraft lasers are like precision rifles, microwave weapons are like shotguns.
Destroying an enemy drone is effective in preventing a blow, but it prevents the revelation of its mission.
Interception, however, does not have this disadvantage.
Physical access to a “captured” drone gives the opportunity to reveal the intentions of the enemy.
Interception can be “hard” or “soft”.
“Hard” means a natural non-destructive effect on the enemy UAV to end up within our area of responsibility.
The “soft” intercept uses cyber-electronic means to take control by interrupting the signal transmission, or by interfering with the control station on the ground.
Destruction or interception
As an alternative to disaster, suppressing a drone’s electronic systems can cause it to land or crash. Modern drones can perform some functions independently, but almost all of them are currently operated by a remote pilot whose commands are transmitted via radio frequencies.
Thus, suppressing control frequencies by electronic warfare can, at the very least, prevent the execution of hostile action.
At present, it is not common practice to equip drones with a “smart” autopilot capable of taking control in the event of a signal loss with the instructions sent by the pilot.
In addition, the loss of communication with the pilot leads to the inability to transmit intelligence information, such as the video signal from the drone camera.
In case of loss of communication with the pilot, some drones have an automatic return system in a designated area where it can land.
In this case the control system ignores all signals and moves to the specified area, using satellite navigation.
In order to prevent the drone from escaping, the means of electronic warfare must suppress not only the control channel, but also the signals of the navigation system.
Effective defense against Turkish drones
On the one hand, the low efficiency of missile defense systems against drones, and the high cost of anti-aircraft missiles require the development and implementation of special measures, both for their natural destruction and for the neutralization of information, control and armament systems.
These may include:
- Creation of special air defense units with various types of short-range portable or on-board missile systems and anti-aircraft guns.
- Upgrading (modernizing) existing anti-aircraft weapons to increase efficiency against small air targets.
- Development of advanced anti-aircraft weapons for the purpose of detecting and shooting down small air targets.
- Development of specialized equipment for area saturation attacks, based on unconventional methods and new natural principles (non-kinetic energy).
- Military measures to deal with information and control systems to reduce the effectiveness of enemy drones.