How does a swarm of drones communicate

Are drone attacks overwhelming air defense?

Status: 02.09.2020 2.30 p.m.
The air defense failed in the attack on Saudi oil plants.

The attack on the world's largest oil refinery in Saudi Arabia on September 14th stunned experts and military officials around the world. The world's largest arms importer was attacked and hit with relatively simple means. The Yemeni Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack on the two Saudi oil plants. However, the US blames Iran for the attack. The effects back then were global - in the short term, the price of crude oil rose by up to 20 percent.

Weak point of low-flying drones

How could systems be attacked that were protected, among other things, by state-of-the-art Patriot anti-missiles? Frank Sauer, lecturer at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich, suspects that the radar systems were a weak point. The Patriot systems were not able to reliably detect attacking drones. Attempts have only been made for a few years to use new radar systems to detect smaller and lower-flying targets. Because the Patriot system is basically designed to fight high-flying and above all large targets - i.e. missiles, aircraft or even larger unmanned systems. Accordingly, the subject of drones is causing a stir.

US armed forces concern

The USA, for example, has been dealing with the topic for around five years. For the first time in a long time, the US military is afraid of losing control of the air, believes Frank Sauer. In the Middle East, the so-called "Islamic State" IS succeeded in throwing small grenades from the air into the open hatches of tanks with small and "simple hardware store helicopters for 200 to 300 dollars." Since these attacks, not only the US military has been researching what a defense against drones could look like in the future. The Bundeswehr is also giving it a lot of thought, says Frank Sauer.

Bundeswehr debates drone defense

MANTIS is primarily intended to repel mortar attacks on field camps.

For example, the army has the MANTIS close-range protection system. However, it is not mobile as it is intended for the defense of military camps. It detects approaching targets and "fires a special fragmentation ammunition with a rapid-fire cannon, which decomposes and then physically destroys the target," explains Frank Sauer. He points out that the Bundeswehr has had no air defense since 2012. Now there is again a discussion about a mobile air defense of the army, which can also repel drones.

Defense companies rely on their own systems

The German armaments manufacturer Rheinmetall Defense does not just rely on a system for drone defense, but also on other products of its own. In a paper by the company it is said, "To effectively defend against drones, you need a mix of different sensors, such as radar, electro-optical sensors, radio direction finders, etc. When it comes to combating small drones, guns like the Skyshield from Rheinmetall, Using the so-called air burst ammunition is very effective. In the future, high-energy lasers will also be used against drones. "

Danger from micro-drones at airports

Since the existence of micro-drones, they have appeared again and again near airports and thus endanger air traffic. Hamburg Airport relies on the "Falke" project. The system is under development and is intended to detect drones, communicate with them or bring them to crash in an emergency.

Even now, drones can be disrupted with the help of electromagnetic waves, for example, and thus forced to land. The police rely on different systems. A variant that, from the point of view of Lieutenant Colonel Gerd Espendorfer from the Hamburg Armed Forces Think Tank at the "German Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies" GIDS, is out of the question for the military. The police would like to have the drone object as a whole available for the forensic investigation afterwards. That would be omitted in the military. "We then also have the opportunity to say that if we are threatened, we could shoot something like that."

Detection of targets improved in the meantime?

Patriot air defense systems are not designed to combat low-flying drones.

For new and modern systems, it is obviously possible in principle to repel recognized low-flying drones. But what about the detection and detection of unmanned systems? There also seem to be many options. According to Frank Sauer from the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich, drones cannot only be detected with the help of radar. "You can also clarify visually and you can educate about the noise of the drones. The anti-drone systems that are used in the civil sector - at airports or other sensitive facilities or, for example, in companies - get such systems because they fear industrial espionage. "

Drones are becoming more and more important for the military

Not only from the perspective of the German armaments manufacturer Rheinmetall, drones will play an important role on the battlefield of the future. "Ground troops must constantly expect to be attacked by drones or to be cleared up at an early stage. As has already been seen in various events, drones can be used in swarms even for civilian purposes," states the armaments company. "In the future, we must therefore expect that military drone swarms will not only operate remotely, but also operate autonomously, coordinate themselves and carry out the given task largely independently."

Diplomacy better than high technology

The Hamburg conflict researcher Götz Neuneck from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH) is pursuing a completely different approach to defending against drones. His assumption is that an offensive opponent can always bypass or surprise a defensive defense by means of technological development. The conclusion is therefore that "you cannot rely on missile defense alone. You need diplomacy that solves these problems - not a defense that only shows at the last moment that it will not work after all."

From Götze Neuneck's point of view, the lessons from the attack on the Saudi oil facilities should therefore be resolved politically and not solely on optimizing and improving the defense systems. However, such diplomatic initiatives are still not in sight in the Gulf region.


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NDR Info | Armed Forces and Strategies | 05.09.2020 | 7:20 pm