IDEX 2019: Leonardo promotes its counter-drone Integrated Counter-Unmanned Aerial System (IC-UAS)

Airport operators, armed forces and organisers of major events are rightly concerned about the threat from cheaply-available commercial drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or Remotely-Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS). Leonardo is emerging as a leader in the domain following reports that the Company’s ‘Falcon Shield’ system was brought in to secure London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports when they were targeted by drones in December and January.

IDEX 2019 Leonardo promotes its counter drone Integrated Counter Unmanned Aerial System IC UAS
Counter-UAS system of Leonardo's Falcon Shield family (Picture source: Leonardo)

When considering drones it is important to remember that they are a tool which can be used both positively and negatively. Leonardo is a world-leader in providing drones, such as its Falco family, for beneficial missions such as border surveillance. For example, the Company’s Falco is currently being deployed on a humanitarian surveillance mission with the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its Falco EVO has been deployed as part of the european Frontex surveillance research programme.

However, with commercially-available drones becoming cheaper by the day, they are also becoming increasingly accessible to the general public. This of course means that there is a significant and growing chance that they will be misused. The closures at London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports in December 2018 and January 2019, caused by drone sightings in airport airspace, were extremely costly to airport operators and airlines, particularly at Gatwick airport where it was reported that 33 hours of closures cost over £50m. While these were some of the first incidents of their kind, they were not special circumstances and could happen at almost any airport at any time. Airports are not the only operators who are increasingly recognising the threat posed by rogue drones. Armed Forces and major event organisers also understand that their security could be compromised by malicious use of UAS.

Leonardo has recognised this threat and has developed a forward-thinking portfolio of systems that mitigate malicious drone activity and improve security. These are called ‘Integrated Counter-UAS’ systems or IC-UAS. And unlike competing products, these are already in service with Italian and UK Armed Forces.

A system tailored to the situation

When it comes to an IC-UAS system, there is no single correct solution. Each scenario is different, whether you’re operating an airport, protecting a military base or even running a large event such as the Olympics.

This is why Leonardo’s IC-UAS systems are modular and scalable, using an ‘open architecture’ approach. The Company can therefore advise a customer select a mix of appropriate sensors and effectors for the specific scenario, operator and situation, which will deliver the optimal response to the threat.

Detect – Track – Identify - Defeat

Most IC-UAS systems provided by Leonardo will cover the end-to-end counter-drone process of detect, track, identify and defeat.

- Detection of drones is accomplished by both active sensors, such as radar, and passive Radio Frequency (RF) sensors which ‘listen’ for drones’ RF control signals.

- To track and identify, Leonardo employs its own world-leading Infra-Red (IR) camera systems such as our Nerio ULR, which provides high-quality images at any time of the day or night.

- Finally, to defeat potentially harmful drones, jamming systems are employed.

Leonardo has developed a jamming system specifically for the IC-UAS scenario using battleproven technology derived from the Company’s ‘Guardian’ counter-IED (improvised explosive device) system. The new IC-UAS version of this technology uses a precision-targeted jammer to safely disable a drone, without interfering with other nearby electronics. This is very important when the drone might be close to a safety-critical system, such as at an airport. It’s therefore essential to use highly-targeted jamming.

In operation

Leonardo’s systems are already operationally proven with both UK and Italian Armed Forces. It was widely reported that the Company’s Falcon Shield was used by the UK’s Royal Air Force to support the counter-drone operations at London Gatwick airport (December 2018) and London Heathrow airport (January 2019).

A Leonardo IC-UAS system in a different configuration, incorporating equipment from Elettronica and Ingegneria Dei Sistemi, is also in-service with the Italian Army and has been selected for the Italian Air Force. The system for the Army was specifically tailored to allow for very fast deployment and offers a suite of systems to allow reliable protection from UAS threats.

Leonardo is not only targeting military customers. Leonardo’s IC-UAS systems are available to be quickly and easily deployed in a civilian context and we’re speaking to all kinds of operators with a view to bringing the systems into operation for airport security and major events.