Monday, March 11, 2019

At Last - Arms Makers Are Going To Target Nuisance Drones

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Waiting passengers at Gatwick Airport, UK, after a drone scare jhalted flights in December.

Recall some 5 years ago, a  Denver Post, piece: 'Drone Close Calls'(June 25th, 2014,  p. 17A)   referenced dozens of perilous close calls of commercial aircraft and drones, e.g.(p. 22A):

"The close calls were the latest in a rash of dangerous encounters between civilian aircraft and drones flown in contravention of FAA rules intended to safeguard U.S. airspace.."

The accumulating incidents  so spooked one commercial pilot (Greg Cromer) that he actually wrote a letter to the FAA opposing the whole insane idea of opening U.S. airspace to these pestiferous interlopers, writing (ibid.):

 "I can see no way to prevent a collision with something that could be as small as a bird or a plane or kitchen appliance."

Since then the incidents have increased more than twenty fold and had pilots dodging the damned things with many even closer calls, over major airports.

Then in December the immediate nuisance nature of these devices came to the fore when thousands of passengers at Gatwick Airport (UK) had flights canceled or postponed on account of drones in the airspace.  ('Drones Shut Down Major UK Airport', WSJ, Dec. 21, p. A8). 

More worrisome, around the same time we beheld the suspected collision of a small drone with an AeroMexico plane ('Risk Of Airliner-Drone Crash In Focus After Incident', WSJ, Dec. 17, p. A6) .   As reported in the piece about the near mid-air collision (ibid.):

"The AeroMexico incident is bound to prompt greater focus on the various ways airports, regulators and drone operators are experimenting to reduce the risk of such midair crashes, particularly in the vicinity of airports when planes are more susceptible because they are flying slowly and low."

And, of course, I've been warning  for years about the dangers posed by these flying electronic interlopers,  with renegade operators.  Also I've explained why  something needs to be done about them proactively - instead of waiting for a drone-aircraft collision taking lives,  e.g.

Now, at last,  it appears something will be done.  This is with arms manufacturers creating assorted ways and means to bring the little pests down or otherwise de-activate and down them. (See e.g. 'Arms Makers Declare War On Drones',  WSJ, Business & Finance,  p. B2, March 4).  As the piece notes:

"Arms makers are targeting the growing menace of drones at airports and on battlefields with a rush to develop new missile systems , radar jammers and laser cannons.  Commercial flights at some of the world's busiest hubs - in New York, London and Delhi - have been grounded in recent months amid concerns the drones could endanger airlines.

The rising number of (airport) incidents has put the threat in the public eye and propelled interest in antidrone technology.  Defense industry officials say armed forces still account for most spending."

However, the piece goes on to point out there is a growing market for non-military weapons and devices, i.e. to take down or disable drones near airports.  Indeed, "this fast growing category could become a lucrative market for arms makers".

Currently we learn  the only means to defend against wayward drones are feeble and iffy at best. For example, for airports "the principal way to counter drones is to disrupt their radio and navigation links."  But all those in the know understand this isn't good enough. Although London Gatwick Airport has said it has bought "unspecified military grade counterdrone equipment."   This was after Gatwick "endured three days of disruption in December."

Let us hope that Gatwick, and other major airports, grasp that it's now time the kid gloves come off and real weapons be used - like small missiles or laser cannons -  to take out nuisance drones.  The article is correct that armed forces "have more leeway to use greater force", i.e. because they "don't have to worry about nearby airplanes and civilians".  But if the airspace is already cleared of commercial flights, then surely a well- aimed laser cannon can be used on any offending drones without adverse repercussions.

In any case, it is gratifying to learn "That has prompted an arms race  among manufacturers to develop new anti-drone technology"  Already Diehl Defence has "developed a system to fire electronic bursts at a drone to fry its electronics.  It has a range of more than 0.6 mile."

It also comes in a "smaller, civil version with about half that range."

In other words,  perfect for knocking out nuisance drones near airports.  The sooner airports get these weapons in place, and put to use, the better for all air passengers. After all, if we're going to go all out to protect the friendly skies from t'errists we need to do it for reckless drone operators as well!

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