ROBOTICS AND AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS
Hunting Drones With Drones
Fortem Technologies image
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — The proliferation of drones, both foreign and domestic, has triggered a necessity for creative means to counter unmanned aerial systems, and one tech company is bringing a drone to the drone fight.
Fortem Technologies, a Utah-based airspace security and defense company, has developed a net-slinging drone interceptor called the DroneHunter F700, a fully autonomous, radar-guided counter-UAS weapon built to stop Group 1 and large Group 2 drones.
The drones literally net their targets using NetGuns — modular attachments that fire rapidly expanding nets to ensnare targets. The drones can carry three types of nets aimed at different target sizes, Adam Robertson, chief technology officer and co-founder of Fortem Technologies, said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s FUZE/FFC/DEMIL conference in September.
The first two sizes — small to medium tether nets — are best for Group 1, or small, store-bought drones. The drones are trapped in a net connected to the DroneHunter by a tether, which is then used to carry the drone to a safe location where it can be analyzed. The third, larger net is called the DrogueNet, and used to capture larger, heavier drones. The net is connected to a parachute, which forces the target into a slow and predictable landing.
“We’re able to take down drones even larger than ourselves,” Robertson added.
The DroneHunter’s larger nets can even “take down a manned aircraft,” having proven effective against both fixed-wing and rotorcraft and can take out targets multiple kilometers away, he said.
The system uses fixed site and onboard radars to “detect, track, pursue and classify” a target, he said. The system’s internal guidance has proximity sensors that allow it to shoot the nets and physically capture the drone, he added.
The DroneHunter also utilizes what Robertson called “AI at the edge” for detection tracking in a “three-dimensional space” that gets fed back into its SkyDome Manager command-and-control system. “The onboard radar can then lock onto the target. It finds it independently in that three-dimensional space [and] can lock on from hundreds of meters away,” he said.
The initial detection radar uses an active electronically scanned array to detect targets and launch DroneHunters from hangars “hot and ready, just like Little Caesars pizza,” Robertson said. “[It] pops out of a box and away it goes, and it’s moving 50 miles per hour within just a few seconds.”
The SkyDome Manager software can also coordinate multiple, simultaneous DroneHunters to counter drone swarms where large networks of hangars are in place. The hunters themselves can autonomously choose between modes for pursuit, attack, defense or tow-away based on the nature of the rogue drone. Product information states that a “human on the loop” can manually override a DroneHunter’s autonomy.
The need for the DroneHunter grew from a realization that “small UAS is changing warfare forever,” Robertson said, pointing to Ukraine and a 2022 North Korean drone incursion over South Korea’s capital as prime examples.
Seoul panicked, Robertson said. “They flew helicopters, they flew F-16s, they flew jets. They tried everything they could to counter this threat.”
The incident was an embarrassment, he said. “How could this happen? How could South Korea … not stop these drones?”
As small UAS become “completely indispensable for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” and rapidly evolve, the United States needs to be prepared, he said. Increased levels of autonomy and AI are also happening “extremely fast,” and the DroneHunter is “what we’re doing about it.”
“I don’t want to be South Korea,” he said. “I don’t want to be apologizing because we couldn’t detect, track or take down drone threats. It’s not a matter of if we’re going to have a major drone incursion by a local actor or some other terrorist threat or adversary. It’s only a question of when, and in what manner are we prepared for it or not?” ND