After an F-22 Raptor nearly collided with a cheap drone in 2017, the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command received permission to shoot down unmanned flying objects that get too near its airbases. But shooting down drones over cities is a less-than-ideal solution to a growing problem. So the U.S. military is trying a new tack: spending millions of dollars on defensive drones armed with nets.
The Defense Innovation Unit, or DIU, is contracting with Utah-based Fortem Technologies for its SkyDome anti-drone system, which marries net-armed drones called DroneHunters with a radar system dubbed TrueView. While other anti-drone systems look for the radio signals that connect drones to their operators – and then try to jam or home in on them — SkyDome can discard the assumption that an incoming drone is emitting anything at all.
“It’s very easy to program a drone to fly completely autonomously. It can be done with a commercial, off-the-shelf drone,” Fortem’s CTO and founder Adam Robertson.
The SkyDome combines radar, sensors aboard the DroneHunters, and even other sensors. It’s an ensemble approach that mimics, somewhat, the way an animal or human might hunt in the wild, using a variety of data sources to make targeting determinations. “It allows us to take from any source all of the intelligence that’s available. We have ground-based radar systems that are excellent at detection,” Robertson said “I have camera systems where I can use the radar to point a camera and look at things.”