WASHINGTON — As the proliferation of mini, commercially-available drones poses a growing threat to airports and military bases worldwide, Finmeccanica believes it has found a solution.
Multiple incidents over the last few years have brought to light the risk posed by these mini drones, also called small unmanned aerial vehicles, to national and commercial security, according to Steve Williams, capability manager for Finmeccanica's airborne and space systems division. From the UAV that landed on the White House lawn last year to the Quadcopter millions of kids got for Christmas, these mini UAVs are now easy to make, cheap to buy, and simple to fly.
"Their arrival isn't a new thing," Williams said. "What's changes is the ease with which you can one, buy them, and two, fly them."
A kid can take a DGI Phantom quadcopter off the shelf, and within minutes can be flying it like a true professional, he stressed.
Whether the drone operator is a terrorist, a drug trafficker, or a kid messing around, the threat is a growing concern to civil and military operators. On a commercial level, civilian airlines worry about drones cropping up at airports and interfering with takeoff and landings. For the military, operators are worried about bad actors mounting high-quality camera technology on the cheap UAVs and using them as data gatherers.
Finmeccanica's system, dubbed Falcon Shield, has the ability to find, fix, track, identify and defeat these threats, Williams said. It is a modular and scalable system that can be used to protect small, localized areas — Times Square in New York City, for instance — or large infrastructures like a nuclear power station or a large airfield.
Falcon Shield combines radar, infrared search and track, a high-performance electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera, and acoustic sensors to identify and track a mini drone that shows up where it shouldn't, Williams explained. The system also has a non-kinetic electronic attack capability that allows the Falcon Shield operator to take control of the drone and either destroy or capture it. This electronic attack capability lets Falcon Shield defeat the threat without interfering with surrounding, friendly systems like people using cell phones or police radios, Williams said.
Falcon Shield is designed to be operated by a small team of one to two individuals, Williams said. The operators will need to be trained security specialists, but don't need a physics degree, he stressed. He declined to provide a cost estimate.
Finmeccanica is in discussion with various customers within the Department of Defense about Falcon Shield, a spokesman confirmed. Williams declined to give specifics, but said the company is working with potential customers around the globe.
"The demand actually is across the entire sphere of those areas because actually, be it a deployed operating base, let's say in the Far East, or an airport in Washington, they have the exact same problem," Williams said. "I think the interest spans all the areas with equal measure at the moment and we're getting interest from all of those areas."