WASHINGTON — With the proliferation of small commercial drones posing a new threat to military and civilian targets, several defense firms are selling counter unmanned aerial system capabilities, from lasers to point-and-shoot devices.

Boeing's Compact Laser Weapon System (CLWS), which quickly set a small drone on fire during a demonstration in August, is offering a lethal counter measure. The platform, which can be attached to anything from an Apache helicopter to a Bradley tank or operated on a standalone tripod, can bring down a small UAS up to three kilometers away. It is also accurate enough to degrade and disable a drone's Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance sensors at a distance of up to seven kilometers.

"At that distance, for counter ISR, you can take out their optics," said Jessica Etts, of Boeing's strategic missile & defense systems division. In an environment where adversaries can send up a fleet of quadcopters with Go-Pro cameras attached, this offers an inexpensive counter measure, she said.

Boeing's Compact Laser Weapons System on display at the annual Association of the US Army conference at Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, October 14, 2015.
Boeing's Compact Laser Weapons System on display at the annual Association of the US Army conference at Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, October 14, 2015.

Boeing's Compact Laser Weapons System on display Oct. 14 at the annual Association of the US Army in Washington.

Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff

Because of its destructive capability, Boeing's CLWS is being marketed primarily for military clients, said Etts, who sat down with Defense News during last month's annual meeting of the Association of the US Army.

Battelle has developed a lightweight, portable system that uses radio frequencies to disrupt an intrusion without causing damage to the drone or risking collateral damage to people who may be nearby.

"Our disruptive signal basically replicates the drone going out of range from its radio control operator," said Dan Stamm, the program manager for Battelle's DroneDefender system. When this happens, most drones do one of three things: hover in place, return to base, or find a nearby place to land.

Battelle's system, which vaguely resembles a rifle with an antenna attached, has a range of hundreds of meters (company officials declined to be more specific), and is directional, so it won't affect nearby electronic systems. Units weigh 15 pounds or less, and can be operated by one person.

The system doesn't detect or identify the intruders. But if a user has a line of sight on a drone, all he or she has to do is point and shoot to interrupt its mission.

Domestically, Battelle envisions its customers will initially be federal agencies and organizations.

"The laws and regulations are written right now such that only federal organizations would be authorized to use the device," Stamm noted.

Lockheed Martin has developed the ICARUS system, which uses video, audio and radio frequencies to detect, identify and disable an unwanted UAS.

"We basically detect and exploit the different intentional and unintentional emanations coming off these drones," said Michael Panczenko, director of engineering and technology for LM's cyber solutions business.

The response is then tailored to a specific drone, and doesn't just jam or disrupt any electronic transmissions in a certain area, he said. Different clients can deploy different counter measures, based on their legal options and authorities, he said.

"The end goal is to prevent that adversary from flying that drone where he wants it to go and minimize collateral damage," Panczenko said. "Our [system] provides a surgical countermeasure. That way you reduce any kind of frequency fratricide. You're not interfering with any other systems," such as commercial airlines.

Analyst estimates put the small drone market as a $1.6 billion industry that is likely to grow rapidly, possibly exceeding $5 billion annually by 2020.

"As more of these systems proliferate, the malicious use of them by adversaries is likely to increase as well," Panczenko said. "The need for systems to detect and counter them will also go up."

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