Defence Business publishes a public reportage about counter UAV technologies with the expertise of Fabian Ochsner, vice president at Rheinmetall Air Defence AG.
1 - The Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) reports that cases of near-misses between drones and planes have surged since 2014. What is the impact of drone strikes on airplanes?
This question is one of the main concerns that are currently investigated amongst manufacturers of airliners and safety experts. From the scarce information available on this topic, two areas of modern airliners seem to be the focus if it comes to collisions with drones. First is a drone strike to a jet engine which will be different from a bird strike because drones consist not only of soft parts like bones and flesh but have hard parts like the electro motors. It is assumed that a strike or even a small drone like a DJI Phantom could potentially have devastating effects to the turbine by ripping the turbine blades. This would obviously have a dramatic effect during take-off where power of all engines is required for a safe start. The second spot of concern are the cockpit windows. Here again, the physical difference between birds and drones bear the potential of a cracked or blown out window which could have very adverse effects. Recent studies and simulations have clearly shown that a direct hit of a drone can cause severe damage to an airliner cockpit and devastating damage to helicopter cockpit windows.
2 - When drones are involved in an incident it is important to ask whether it is a recreational user out of control or a terrorist with intent. How can national security forces, as well as those at the UK’s airports, monitor this growing threat?
We witness a growing awareness to Airport operators and Airlines to the problem. As threats from drones are discussed more frequently it becomes visible that, however, there is a major misunderstanding if it comes to the definition of this threat. Due to the fact today’s drone defence systems are attempting to use the drones signature and dependency on electromagnetic signals like GPS or RF to locate and mitigate such threats. This has led to the assumption that such systems could be the simple answer to the disturbing problem. The bad news are, that this is only the easy side of the issue. As you stipulate in your question, there are different motivations to fly a drone into an airport environment. What we witness today are some downright senseless individuals who like to film landing or starting airliners using drones and post the clips on Youtube. It can be assumed that such nonsense can be mitigated by using technology that interacts with the drones command and guidance systems. If, however, a malicious intent is the background of an action we face a major difference. Due to the options that terrorists have it can be assumed that drones can be purpose built and thus not be susceptible to the currently proposed drone defence solutions based on detection and mitigation in the electromagnetic field. The consequence thereof is pretty disturbing for airport operators and airlines because technologies that can be deployed to mitigate purpose built drones are not readily available and demand major investments. Furthermore, it must be assumed that the cost associated with deploying such systems will be significant. Solutions are generally available the military field of air defence where coping with “non-cooperative” targets is standard. Airports will be able to monitor “unfriendly” drones in their zones of interest by placing a variety of sensors and appropriate effectors into their overall security concepts.
3 - Clearly, drone interference is a threat that has extremely chaotic consequences. What impact do unmanned aerial vehicles have on civil air traffic? And how can the threat be countered?
As we have seen by drone sighting related interruptions of flight operations by airports, the consequences are not only a nuisance for passengers but generate massive cost. Today, an airport in a competitive environment could be commercially threatened by repeated drone related closures. Countering this actively demands significant investments into the security set up of the airport.
4 - As drone technology advances, it becomes more difficult for regulation to keep pace. How is Rheinmetall developing solutions to successfully detect and eliminate drone threats?
Rheinmetall uses its vast technology base to conceive a notional toolbox of capability and products in the three fields of an overall drone defence solution. Based on the military requirements background, systems to “Detect” and to “Act” meaning to mitigate the drone actively as well as the necessary decision tools to “Decide” if and how to place an intervention are ready to be finalized for use in new surroundings like airports. Modern technologies are matched up with existing products and capabilities to be able to provide solutions which can provide a safe environment if it comes to the threat by purpose built drones.