Reutech is developing a counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system in response to the growing threat from UAVs.
Carl Kies, International Executive: Strategic Projects and Business Development at Reutech Radar Systems, told delegates at the 2019 edition of the Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Conference hosted by Creative Space Media last week that autonomous weapons are posing an increasing threat, with non-state actors able to have an air force and a navy, primarily through the acquisition of autonomous weapons.
“The threat is getting serious,” he said, pointing to the recent strikes on Saudi Arabian oil facilities that for a time cut half the country’s production. The strikes, believed to have been carried out by 17 missiles and UAVs, were able to penetrate Saudi air defences that included Patriot, Shaheen and Skyguard systems. “These new kind of targets are quite challenging and can defeat traditional defence systems,” Kies said.
Small, low and slow commercial and hobby UAVs are an efficient way of carrying a payload to a target because of their availability and they are becoming cheaper, more sophisticated and capable of carrying larger payloads, Kies warned. For example, for R10 000 someone can create a flying improvised explosive device (IED) with a 2 kg payload. In Iraq, Islamic State successfully used DJI Phantoms and other small commercial UAVs to attack targets with 40 mm grenades.
Kies said a growing issue is that UAVs do not necessary rely on GPS, which can be jammed, as they can optically track a target and fly in swarms.
Traditional and existing air defences are not effective against this new and growing threat, which is typically small, with a low radar cross section and infrared footprint, and flies low and slow. These threats are difficult to detect and hit.
Long range surveillance radars can’t see over the horizon or see low fling targets and are thus largely ineffective against small UAVs. This also means there is not much time to track and classify targets, with artificial intelligence being able to assist.
Kies said that at the moment GPS jamming and spoofing are some of the most common methods of taking down UAVs, but Reutech is working on a system that uses 40 mm airburst rounds launched from a remotely operated automatic grenade launcher. This is aimed at taking out small targets, and has been successfully tested by Reutech.
Kies said South Africa has a number of possible counter-UAV solutions. For detection, this includes the RSR 906 gap filler radar to detect difficult targets at 20 kilometres, jammers and direction finders (such as those supplied by GEW) to target UAV communications and navigation, 23 mm anti-aircraft guns, Starstreak or Umkhonto missiles and Reutech optronic radar trackers for missile and gun fire control. Cannon and missiles would typically be used on larger UAVs. Reutech previously developed the RSR 150 radar for rapidly tracking multiple incoming projectiles, which is also ideal for tracking small UAVs.