January 31, 2023

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The Changing Threat Landscape: How Criminal Use of Drones – and Counter Drone Technology

Dedrone fundingDedrone fundingAs the commercial drone industry scales up, so does the need for security solutions.  The counter drone industry goes hand in hand with commercial UAS, enabling legitimate commercial use by securing any sensitive areas.  In this post, the Chief Marketing Officer at one of the leading global counter drone technology firms predicts what the industry can expect in 2023.

The following is a guest post by Mary-Lou Smulders, Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone.  DRONELIFE neither accepts nor makes payment for guest posts.

The Year Ahead for Airspace Security: 7 Predictions by Dedrone’s CMO

DroneLife · The Evolving Threat Landscape-and – What – The – Counter – Drone – Industry – Is – Doing

With every passing year, drones have become more capable and more accessible. Drones can be found in almost every sphere of public life — from industry and agriculture to entertainment, law enforcement, military operations and critical infrastructure.

This trend shows no sign of slowing down. Drones are, and will continue to be, an increasingly prominent fixture in our personal and working lives. As a result, governments must figure out a way to allow drone users and manufacturers to continue innovating, while also mitigating the potential harms of malicious and/or careless usage.

Fortunately, 2023 promises to deliver much-needed clarity on this front. We’ll see progress towards the creation of a coherent regulatory framework for how governments (both local and national) can deploy and use counterdrone technologies. There will also be continued innovation from the counter Uncrewed Aerial Systems (cUAS) industry as it seeks to protect commercial and government people and property where the risk of drone-based disruption is high.

Alongside these overwhelmingly positive developments, we’ll also see malicious actors adjust their strategies to circumvent existing counterdrone measures. As malicious drone users become increasingly sophisticated, government entities and private sector organizations will face pressure to adapt.

To find out more about what this changing threat landscape will look like, and how industry and government can counter it, read on for Dedrone’s top seven predictions for 2023.

DJI’s Market Loss is Bad Actors’ Gain

It’s clear that DJI will continue to enjoy the largest market share of flying drones for the near future, but it is losing ground to rivals both within China and elsewhere.  The non-DJI market share is clearly gaining ground in both commercial and hobbyist use. With more non-DJI / DIY drones produced, bad actors will leverage these Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to evade detection by AeroScope sensors. AeroScope can only sense DJI drones and is blind to all other drone manufacturers

Consequently, open-air venues, airports, correctional facilities, and other locations will require some form of drone detection that does not solely rely on AeroScope.  This means that sensor-fusion capabilities will become essential for a robust cUAS solution. This approach is the only way to provide true air domain awareness and protection to facilities with open-air components, for the security of event-goers, passengers, pilots, correctional inmates, etc.  And as more venues look to develop airspace security, expect cUAS vendor applications for SAFETY Act certifications to skyrocket.

On the drone side, there will be a realization that drone hardware is equally – if not more – important than drone software. Most drone manufacturers have directed their efforts into AI and CV (computer vision) technology to enhance customer user experience but ruggedized and military-grade airframes will be needed as use cases shift from consumer/hobbyist to serious industrial and even military applications

Beyond Visual Line of Sight Becomes a Widespread Reality

In addition to the need for regulation and government action around the threat drones can pose, we also expect to see Drone-as-a-First-Responder (DFR) pilot programs emerging around the world, pushing the US regulations around Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) to develop more quickly.  DFRs are already in limited use in the US and have shown positive results across many use cases from being able to provide live visual data at an incident before responders even arrive, documenting crime scenes, searching for missing persons, and more.

Currently, BVLOS flight is prohibited in U.S. airspace without going through FAA’s rigorous waiver process. While the FAA has made recommendations in 2022 that point to a more positive reception for BVLOS, it’s still in the recommendation stage.  Since the FAA is still in the rulemaking process, the technology is surpassing regulation and progress is being held slowed.

The continuous technological progress of drone capabilities and slow to move regulation underscores the need for local law enforcement to have mobile drone detection options which can address the concerns around BVLOS – to avoid any collisions and identify unauthorized drones amongst the many authorized ones. With the ability for drone pilots who are bad actors to be further away from their targets, there are now even more vectors of approach and vulnerabilities exposed.

Contraband in Corrections Continues

Due to protocols and technologies introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities, in-person visits and physical mail remain limited. We have already seen a rise in drones delivering contraband like phones, weapons and drugs, and not all correctional facilities are prepared for this yet. In addition, more robust or larger UAVs make for more types of contraband that could potentially be delivered or better/larger cameras being used to observe patterns and rotations prior to a contraband drop.

This is not only a threat to the safety of the security staff onsite, but also the safety of inmates, as these drops can cause fights to break out. The incarceration rate may be dropping, but this doesn’t mean that the risk of contraband drops will follow suit.

Drone Shows Need Security

Drone shows will be more and more widely used for entertainment, and as drones improve further and have better flight accuracy, we expect to see even more shows in 2023. We are starting to see new traditions for celebrations like July 4 where drone shows are becoming center stage in lieu of fireworks – which can be visually stunning. Major events over the last 18 months like the presidential election and the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee featured drone shows, showing that they’re rapidly being adopted around the globe. But with the use of drones instead of fireworks comes the need for better drone security to quickly distinguish between good drones and bad ones when hundreds or even thousands are in the air at once. Shows featuring many drones offer the ability for bad actors to hide in plain sight and then achieve their goals.

Market Consolidation

As drone security becomes a real concern, the existing technologies will be tested under real-world conditions.  Security professionals will quickly understand which solutions actually work outside of demo environments. This dynamic will quickly push the industry to pick winners and losers.  Equally, cUAS companies that are betting on one mode of detection (vs. sensor-fusion) will quickly be overshadowed and driven into a niche provider status under a true airspace security Command and Control (C2) solution.

As the sector matures, counterdrone technologies will become a foundational part of the modern security infrastructure. cUAS providers whose solutions can easily integrate into existing security infrastructures and can build capabilities for their customers overtime, will be the most successful. You will see traditional security integrators evaluating and adopting cUAS partners to add to their repertoire of offerings to their end customers.

Drones in Warfare

Drones so far have played a huge role in Ukraine after first coming to the stage in the Middle East and then in the Armenia/Azerbaijan conflict. It wasn’t until the early months of the Russian-Ukraine war that the general public saw their potential to tip the scales. Ukraine used its fleet of Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2s to win several propaganda and military operations while Russians started with Russian made Orlan and Elerons and then moved to larger Iranian made drones..

As the war drags on, both sides are using UAVs and consequent cUAS technologies in progressively innovative ways while the rest of the world supports and learns from the conflict.   Expect drone mitigation techniques and technology to go through rapid development / real-world testing cycles this winter protecting critical infrastructure and citizens alike.

Within NATO members, expect increased block-wide funding for UAV and cUAS projects, as they deal with the changing dynamics of modern warfare. These include the necessity to provide close air support in contested airspace, the need to combat opposing drone fleets, and the desire for constant combat readiness in spite of personnel issues. Some of the most innovative and affordable military UAVs and cUASs will come from smaller entities. These companies will innovate and iterate faster with nimble users trumping more traditional large primes that are used to slower innovation cycles and  larger defense budgets. At the same time, Iran will emerge as a major supplier of military UAVs for countries that aren’t aligned with Western/NATO interests.

Open-Air Events, Open-Air Drone Protection

Drone incursions are a reality in major sports events and other open-air venues (including the NFL this season). These incursions are, at best, disruptive, potentially halting play, and are yet to cause any real physical harm.  We can expect the leagues and organizations to push even harder for legislation enabling use of more widespread and advanced cUAS technologies next year.

Equally important, NLF, MLB, NCAA and NASCAR will be investing to harden their airspace securities as allowed under current laws, to ensure safety of players and fans. We may very well see a much wider array of outdoor events requiring some form of drone protection be used or in place. cUAS companies with portable and easy-to-deploy solutions will win as a result. Contracts will also be won on their ability to protect against a wide variety of drones. We see drone incursions within other sectors of the economy and public life — from prisons to airports. But these venue-based drone incidents are different, as they interrupt events watched by millions at home, and thousands more within the stadium. As a result, they’ll be a major factor in driving consumer awareness of malicious drone usage. We can expect malicious operators to rely more on DIY hardware, or non-DJI drones. Using DJI drones is so 2019!

The Road Ahead

2023 promises new challenges for the counterdrone industry and governments alike. But they’re well-positioned to meet them.

With regulatory clarity, governments will have the ability to deploy counterdrone technologies where they’re needed most. This clarity will also benefit the private sector, where the risk of a malicious drone incursion is very real and has the potential to cause serious disruption.

Accompanying this regulatory push will be a new generation of more portable and capable counterdrone technologies. As the counterdrone industry accelerates the pace of innovation, we’ll be able to protect more places.

But malicious drone actors won’t stand still. They’ll try to identify weaknesses in counterdrone technologies. The onus will be on the industry to stay one step ahead.

Read more:

Mary Lou Smulders DedroneMary Lou Smulders DedroneMary-Lou Smulders is the Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone, where she leads Dedrone’s global marketing and communications team.

Miriam McNabbMiriam McNabb

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

TWITTER:@spaldingbarker

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