The Swarm Killer

The lat­est threat: swarms of un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles de­signed to over­whelm their un­der-equipped tar­get. Isis com­bat­ants abroad and hostage tak­ers in the United States have started us­ing squadrons of offthe-shelf drones to an­noy and surveil, and even to d

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - How Your World Works - BY A L E X A NDER GE­ORGE

ARMED FORCES and law en­force­ment have sur­pris­ingly few ef­fec­tive anti-drone tools, and none – that are de­clas­si­fied – to tar­get mul­ti­ple un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles ( UAVS), or swarms. Shot­gun shells that fire nets to snare the pro­pel­lers work only at close range. Mis­siles, such as the halfa-mil­lion-rand Stinger, aren’t re­ally cost­ef­fi­cient for tak­ing out R12 000 drones. And high-power lasers and sig­nal jam­mers are ef­fec­tive, but must be fixed on a tar­get for sev­eral sec­onds be­fore they dis­able a UAV. Ear­lier this year, Raytheon re­leased de­tails on a new type of drone de­fense us­ing high- power mi­crowaves (HPM).

The same elec­tro­mag­netic en­ergy you use to re­heat pizza can knock out drones in less than a sec­ond. HPM beams work on the atomic level, pass­ing through a drone’s ex­te­rior and dis­tort­ing the frag­ile semi­con­duc­tors that keep the drone aloft. Once the tar­get is in sight, as lit­tle as a mi­crosec­ond’s worth of silent, in­vis­i­ble mi­crowaves moves at the speed of light, fry­ing the cir­cuits, says Don Sul­li­van, a di­rec­tor at Raytheon who worked on the HPM. And crit­i­cally, the beam can be ma­nip­u­lated into a cone shape, cre­at­ing an ef­fec­tive field that can quickly knock out mul­ti­ple UAVS, with an en­ergy cost of less than R14 per kill.

The sys­tem acts largely au­tonomously, de­tect­ing, iden­ti­fy­ing, and track­ing its tar­gets with AESA (ac­tive elec­tron­i­cally scanned ar­ray) radar. It’s the same radar found on mod­ern fighter jets. AESA uses an ar­ray of thou­sands of mo­d­ules that change di­rec­tion al­most in­stan­ta­neously, de­tect­ing tar­gets more quickly and more ac­cu­rately than an older spin­ning- disc sys­tem or in­frared sys­tems that may not pick up the min­i­mal heat sig­na­ture from a quad­copter. Though the HPM sys­tem re­quires lit­tle hu­man in­put, the or­der to en­gage tar­gets re­mains with its op­er­a­tor.

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