With international expertise, UAE moves closer to in-house counter-drone technology
BEIRUT – Electronic warfare specialist SIGN4L is set to mark two milestones this year with the expected launch of its first integrated counter-drone system between the UAE firm and Israel Aerospace Industries, and the completion of its first operational prototype of high energy laser with European Consortium MBDA and French company CILAS.
These steps taken by the subsidiary of defense conglomerate Edge could help the UAE develop local capabilities to design, create and operate locally made technology to counter unmanned aerial systems.
“The UAE’s cooperation with European companies and Israel will increase its know-how in the field and could be used as a learning experience to develop its own system in the future”, according to Jean-Marc Rickli, head of global risks and emerging at the Think Tank of the Geneva Center for Security Policy. “Laser technologies require advanced technologies; the other is more common. There are many companies that are discussing certain drone fighting techniques, so the UAE will be an addition to that.
Equipping commercial drones with weapons has become an inexpensive and effective way to target forces and infrastructure, especially in the Middle East.
The first phase of the high-energy laser system involving SIGN4L, the manufacturer of missiles MBDA and CILAS, a subsidiary of the Ariane group, will see the creation of a modular ground platform.
“The signed MoU allows SIGN4L to tailor an end-to-end C-UAV solution against hostile unmanned aerial vehicles. The end product is a modular system that will include electronic sensors for detection and identification, and high-energy lasers to neutralize micro and mini-UAV threats ”, Waleid Al Mesmari, vice president of program management Edge for its electronic warfare and intelligence activity. , Defense News said.
The companies agreed to consider potential cooperation at the international defense exhibition and conference, held February 21-25 in the United Arab Emirates, but few details were revealed at that time. Al Mesmari said the cooperation allows the UAE to benefit from international expertise.
“We are seeing a technological breakthrough here and we are delighted to partner with our partners to bring this solution to market. SIGN4L contributes significantly to the key aspects of the modular solution and, in collaboration with its partners, participates in the management and development of subsystems, ”he said.
The multi-stage program begins with the development of a land system, followed by integration on air and sea platforms. “The first phase of the program will be a highly efficient ground system that combines sensor data from a variety of sources with the latest technologies in data fusion, signal analysis, jamming and directed energy weapons. At a later stage, the solution will be adapted to suit a variety of platforms, including in the air and at sea, ”explained Al Mesmari.
Regarding the scope of the system, he said the aim was “to identify drones, assess threat potential and, if necessary, neutralize threats.”
“We plan to have a working prototype in place this year that can be used for extensive testing and characterization. Then the system will be manufactured according to customer requirements. The development work will be split between the United Arab Emirates and France, and we look forward to gaining new skills and international experience from our global partners, ”said Al Mesmari.
Meanwhile, SIGN4L and Israel Aerospace Industries plan to develop counter-drone systems, marking the first such defense collaboration between the two countries.
“This collaboration follows a comprehensive and detailed roadmap. The key components of the system have been tested, and the next phase on the C-UAV is to confirm the final configurations and building blocks, ”Al Mesmari told Defense News.
SIGN4L plans to complete work on the integrated solution this year, which is expected to use a variety of detection and interception techniques. The detection and tracking elements will be based on radars, radio frequency surveillance, electro-optical cameras and infrared sensors. Both flexible and difficult capabilities are also expected.
“Soft-kill interdiction methods include jamming of radio links, GPS jamming, impersonation and cyber-takeover. Physical destruction capabilities – such as high energy lasers, electromagnetic pulses, missiles and firearms – will also be available depending on the threat level as well as the client’s targeted operating environment, ”Al said. Mesmari.
The bilateral working agreement on the system was also signed at IDEX in February. He called for a fully autonomous counter-UAV system that requires no human intervention and is supported by 3D radar, intelligent communication technology and electro-optics integrated into a unified command and control system.
Al Mesmari said that the systems under development are being tested across multiple threat landscapes and are performing well.
“To manage any type of drone and respond to urgent and emerging threats, the system must detect, identify and defeat the threat if necessary. First, our radars, cameras and sensors would detect the threat and communicate that data through the system. It would then monitor the progress of the targets and determine if they are friendly or hostile. To defeat threats deemed hostile, the laser weapon system could be activated, or the cyber takeover system could be used to neutralize the threat, ”he said.
“The region has specific environmental needs; therefore, the system will work best in hot, humid and dusty weather. That being said, we seek to offer a complete and robust solution for the global market that addresses a wide range of diverse capabilities and threats. “
Rickli, of the Geneva-based think tank, noted that there are a few techniques used to defend airspace against drone threats.
“When it comes to counter-drone solutions, we can identify three types of techniques: destruction, neutralization and takeover of drones. The laser is destroyed; the Israeli solution falls into the categories of neutralization, destruction and perhaps takeover, ”he told Defense News.
But due to the different sizes and threats posed by drones, there is no one solution that can offer all three techniques, he added.
“Think about the differences between the drones that stranded Gatwick Airport in 2018 – commercial drones – [and] those used against Saudi Aramco [oil facility] in 2019, and those used for US targeted assassination. They are very different, fly at different altitudes with different performance, and therefore make full defense very difficult.