Defence minister says anti-drone system is in research mode amid growing threat

Click to play video: 'Government grilled on lack of drone warfare protection'
Government grilled on lack of drone warfare protection
There is new technology, some of it Canadian, to respond to the threat of drone warfare. But the Canadian Forces doesn't use it. Mike Armstrong tracked down Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to ask why – May 30, 2018

When Canadian troops are deployed to Mali this summer, they’ll likely be going without any sort of defence against the growing threat of weaponized commercial drones.

In conflicts around the world, insurgents and rebels are using inexpensive unmanned aerial devices to drop bombs.

The federal defence minister attended a tradeshow for defence and security contractors in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Harjit Sajjan was asked what’s being done to protect Canada’s soldiers in the upcoming United Nations mission in Mali. He would only say anti-drone systems are still in the research and development phase.

“Whether it’s looking at dealing with threats that you mentioned or looking at the cyber threats that we face around the world, we’re going to make sure we have the tools in place,” the minister said.

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Store-bought drones being retrofitted for war zones

The CANSEC show includes several anti-drone systems.

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The ANCILE system is manufactured by Allen Vanguard, a company based in Ottawa and the U.K.

Once engaged, it repels drones that come within a certain distance.

“Some of them might just hover, some of them might return to base, some might hit the ground,” Allen Vanguard’s Bobby Shawbridge said. “As long as it doesn’t do what it was supposed to do, we’ve won.”

According to experts, the threat of drone attack is increasing as technology increases and prices drop.

Groups like ISIS use commercially available drones for surveillance, and for producing propaganda videos. However, with some basic modifications, they can be used to carry explosive payloads.

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WATCH: Canadian soldiers not equipped for drone warfare threat

Click to play video: 'Canadian soldiers not equipped for drone warfare threat'
Canadian soldiers not equipped for drone warfare threat

As the technology is used in one conflict, Strawbridge said it spreads to others.

“The enemy says, ‘Well, I used it in Mogadishu,’ and the guy in Mali says, ‘Well, I’ll deploy it there,'” he explained.

Drones are also being used as decoys in some conflicts.

Yemeni rebels have sent drones into Saudi airspace to draw fire from anti-missile defences. Shooting a $1,000 drone out of the sky with a Patriot missile can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It also opens a window of opportunity, according to Mike Gordon of Keysight Technologies.

“They’ll fly their stuff in after,” he said. “They use the drones as a kind of front-line, and they can shoot something else in while it’s reloading.”

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How drone jamming disrupts satellite signals drones use to navigate

The Canadian government may not be providing anti-UAV protection, but there may be systems brought into Mali by the United Nations.

“They’re not using it right now, but they’re looking at it,” Gordon said. “I know the company that’s doing it. I can’t really discuss that.”

If it happens, it’s happening late, says Shawbridge.

“The research and development cycle for the enemy is a lot shorter than the research and development for major militaries. So you have to get ahead of the thread. We should be deploying prepared for that threat already.”

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