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Dawning of the Counter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs) Market

UAVs/Drones are increasingly being used across both military and civil/commercial sectors owing to their various capabilities, the major ones being that they can be used for surveillance, monitoring and acquiring visual imagery swiftly coupled with getting into places where persons cannot reach. However, with every technology comes the potential for misuse and this is applicable to UAVs/Drones as well. In recent times, there have been many cases where UAVs have violated safety and security and endangering people's life as well at times. This has led to the evolution of Counter-UAV technology specifically designed to track and intercept drones.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) also referred to as Drones and Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) or Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), can be described in simple term as aerial vehicles which operate without a human pilot and is either autonomous or remotely operated. The capabilities of unmanned vehicles have been employed for both military purpose including reconnaissance and combat roles, including armed-combat support and as well as for civilian and commercial applications, such as reconnaissance, surveillance roles, inspection, monitoring, surveying, mapping, product delivery, and remote sensing, with remarkable success. Rather, it is expected that over a period unmanned platforms will overtake the manned platforms. This is largely due to the decreasing cost of UAV technology, and to the fact that UAVs have distinct functional advantages and applications as compared to manned vehicles. Considering the UAV applications, there is and will be seen a massive demand for UAVs with military/homeland sector and civil/commercial sector. The global UAV/drone market is forecasted to be worth USD 19.3 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 45.8 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 15.5% from 2019 to 2025.

Risks Due to Misuse of Drone Technology

As every technology has the potential for misuse and this is applicable to UAVs/Drones as well. As the market for both UAVs/Drones for use by defence and civil/commercial entities accelerates, the instances of misuse of this technology by anti social entities also heighten the risks - Privacy, Security and Penetration - posed by this technology and applications and based on usage. Radioactive material landing on the roof of Japanese Prime Minister's office in Tokyo, French nuclear plants being surveyed by unknown drones, drone crashing in White House lawns, criminals using drones to send drugs, mobile phones and weapons into the prison are few such examples. The need to alleviate the risks calls for adoption of 'Counter UAV/Drones technology'. The different risks are detailed out in the figure below.

Countering Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)/Drone Technology

A complete and effective Counter UAV system must be capable of timely identifying/detecting, tracking as well as intercepting/neutralizing these risks arising from UAV/Drone usage. In a typical defence surrounding, the missile defence system is capable of preventing any unmanned platform from entering the restricted airspace; however the cost incurred are high in comparison to Counter UAV system and also the deployment of these systems are relatively easy. Further, the defence anti-aircraft radar are mostly designed in such a manner that they are able to spot large and fast paced objects and thus cannot always locate small, low and slow flying UAVs/Drones which can be detected by Counter UAV system. Refer Fig for major feature comparison between Counter UAVs/Drones System and missile defence system.

The technology of Counter UAV depends on a variety of techniques for detecting or intercepting drones. Mostly drones are spotted using techniques like Radio Frequency (RF) Detection/Jammers, Acoustic Systems, Electro-Optical and Infrared and are then destroyed with techniques like RF Jamming, GNSS Jamming, spoofing, laser, nets, and projectile or combined interdiction elements. Some of these are discussed below:

Radio Frequency (RF) Jammers-  An RF Jammer is a static, mobile, or handheld device which transmits a large amount of RF energy towards the drone, masking the controller signal. This results in UAV making a controlled/uncontrolled landing/fall or the UAV flying off to a random uncontrolled direction.

Drone Gun- This gun looking apparatus jams the radio frequency and GPS and mobile signal between the drone and the pilot and is able to ground the suspected UAV. This weapon has an effective range of about 2 kms.

High-Energy Lasers- A high-powered optical device which produces an extremely focused beam of light, or laser beam. The laser defeats the drone by destroying the structure and/or the electronics.

Drone Catcher- This system comprises of a drone which approaches the enemy drone, locks onto it and then catches the enemy drone by throwing a net around it.

Sky Fence  This system uses a range of signal disruptors geared to jam the flight path of the suspect drones and prevent them from entering secure and sensitive places and VITAL installations.

Drone Malware- This technique implies hacking of the suspected drone by planting of a malware remotely, taking control of its software and pilot and thereafter taking it in custody.

High Power Microwave (HPM) Devices- HPM devices generate an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) capable of disrupting electronic devices. The EMP interferes with radio links and disrupts or even destroys the electronic circuitry in drones (plus any other electronic device within range) due to the damaging voltage and currents it creates. HPM devices may include an antenna to focus the EMP in a certain direction, reducing potential collateral damage.

Noteworthy, Counter-UAV systems have their own set of challenges, one of the major being  the use of anti-UAV jammers or unauthorized UAV recognition and countermeasure installation can result in electromagnetic and radio frequency obstruction especially at airports, which can have an effect on the safety of flight coupled with air traffic management issues.

Counter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)/Drone Market 

Several countries in the world have started implementing these counter UAV measures owing to growing number of internal and external threats to tackle challenging situations and promote public safety and will continue to deploy so in future as well, rather only witnessing a substantial increase of these technologies year on year. Thus, on the backdrop of this, the estimated $1.2 billion counter UAV market at present (2019) is expected to thrive in the next few years reaching $6.6 Billion by 2024 growing at a rate of 41% CAGR. The steep rise in terrorist and illegal activities such as incidents of security breach by unidentified UAVs/drones, smuggling and border encroaching will further propel the demand for the counter-UAV/drone technologies around the world in coming years. North America is expected to dominate the global market followed by Asia-Pacific which includes India.

The counter UAV/Drone market is highly competitive and fragmented. There are over 150 manufactures offering over 200 Counter UAV products and systems. Some of the prominent players in the counter drone market are Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Thales, DRONESHIELD, SAAB, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Blighter Surveillance Systems Ltd, among others.

Counter UAV Technology and India

In the Indian context, there would be a growing requirement for Counter UAV system owing to the growing demand of UAVs seen in both defence/homeland and civil segments.Taking into consideration the defence sector only, it is to be seen that till date, India has bought UAV platforms worth approximately $1.5 Billion (Rs 8250 Crores). Further, keeping in mind, the projected and growing requirement of the three defence services, the UAV segment promises an overall opportunity about $4 Billion in capital procurement over the next 5-7 years. Thus, we can say that the India UAV military market which is seen to be in its early stages of lifecycle has robust growing prospects. The overall Indian UAV market growth will prop up by security concerns, predominantly, terrorist threats, border intrusion, and rise in domestic crime rate.

Thus, as the requirement of UAVs grows up, concerns would also grow around the potential security threats leading to the requirement of (induction and manufacturing) of counter-drone technologies. Also, the growth of the civil UAV/drone market has resulted in many threats utilizing low cost UAVs. They have become a threat to critical homeland security and important infrastructures including prisons, airports and other sensitive sites where traditional security and defense measures are easily defeated. The requirement for counter UAV in the Indian context is further enhanced given the demographic intensity, increasing air traffic and the evolution of CAR in India. Further, recent incidents like the lethal drone attack on Saudi Arabia's largest petroleum company and arms dropping by UAVs in Punjab from across the India-Pakistan border has alerted Indian security and intelligence agencies and they are now analyzing modern anti-drone weapons like 'sky fence' and 'drone gun' to counter terror or similar sabotage bids by these aerial platforms. To handle the above scenario the Ministry of Civil Aviation has suggested a counter-rogue drone deployment plan, categorized across three models, based on the sensitivity of vital assets and installations.

As of now, India has just embarked its journey with experimenting of Counter UAV/Drone technologies, however, these technologies are still very nascent and there is a long way to go in manufacturing them indigenously. Right now the Indian market for these Counter UAV systems is somewhere around $10-12 Million (Rs 65-75 Crores). In 2018 the Government invited a number of local and foreign players to exhibit their technologies in this vital area so that appropriate mechanisms can be put in place to counter the threat of rogue drones. A number of government agencies such as Ministry of Civil Aviation, Pawan Hans Limited, IAF, CISF, NSG, DRDO etc. participated in the process along with local and foreign firms to decide on the technology best suited under Indian conditions. As of now, the DRDO labs and Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) are already taking up Counter UAV related R&D and technology aggregation projects. These projects could be given further boost to support wider participation. Though Counter UAV technology is enlisted under the 'Make in India' program as well, major industry participants are from outside the country. Early guidelines from the government will help indigenous manufacturers to plan their technology roadmap and hence increase their share of pie when the market grows for procurement of these systems.

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