Drones are widely-used for inspection, photography, farming and parcel delivery, and have gained a huge popularity as toys among the general public. With ever-growing capabilities in performance, cameras, GPS, and radio links, the number of drone applications is rapidly expanding, stirring the imagination of inventors and hobbyists alike.
Sales for personally owned drones have soared: in 2016, they reached the 800 million USD mark in the US alone, and reportedly exceeded the 1 billion USD mark in 2017 .
For the military, drones are a dream come true: they are small, essentially disposable and can be used in a wide range of roles such as surveillance and weapons delivery, without running the risk of physical harm to own forces.
All these advantages that have become available to NATO forces are equally accessible to our adversaries. Readily available and adaptable, drones can be equipped with sensors or weaponized by non-state actors, lone wolves or terrorists, and then used to monitor our operations or to put our soldiers in harm's way — all of it at little risk to the attacker.
As a result of their small size and the materials from which they are constructed, drones are difficult to detect and track – especially in an already complex and cluttered operational environment. This makes it a huge challenge to identify their presence and neutralize or destroy them before they become a threat to our forces and operations.
Over recent years, the NCI Agency has acquired a deep understanding of drone detection and countermeasures.
As a centre of excellence for Electronic Warfare and sensor systems, the Agency's Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR) team is well positioned to apply knowledge gained through the delivery of operational capabilities using similar technologies to help the counter-drone challenge.
The Agency also has a thorough grasp of the available counter-drone systems on the market, acquired through a recent market survey performed in the last quarter of 2017.
Our scientific and operational expertise has been recognized by the NATO Operational Commands in their selection of the Agency as the procurement lead for the acquisition of a capability for the protection against drones in multiple areas of NATO's current operations.
As such, the Agency plans to release an Invitation for Bid (IFB) for NATO procurement in mid-2018.
"Threats posed by terrorist misuse of drones are challenging NATO traditional strategy for force protection, demanding for new capabilities to be developed, deployed and used, commented Dr Claudio Palestini, Officer, Counter Terrorism Section, Emerging Security Challenges Division, NATO Headquarters
"NATO is addressing these challenges from several strands of work and is working to setup a comprehensive framework for putting together in a coherent way the different efforts on-going. The expertise and knowledge of the NCI Agency is key in contributing to this framework."
If required, the NCI Agency is able to apply its expertise to perform further similar acquisition activities for individual Nations, Multinational trust funds, NATO entities or other International organisations.
POCs: René Thaens and René van der Heiden
Electronic Warfare & Sensors Branch, JISR Service Line, The Hague