Anti-drone technology: How does it work?

Up until recently, drones – otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – were considered a largely harmless gadget used by enthusiasts to capture wide angle footage and aerial photography. But when the UK’s two largest international airports were brought to a standstill at the end of 2018, that perception quickly took a different shape.

Despite generally weighing little more than a bag of sugar, recent events have shown that drones are capable of wreaking havoc across the entirety of UK airspace. At Gatwick alone, three days of disruption affected over 140,000 passengers and is predicted to have cost airlines over £20 million. As a result, the airport has been joined by Heathrow in procuring new anti-drone systems to detect and jam communications between devices and their operators.

Whilst the technology is still in its early stages, the market is expected to experience exponential growth in the coming years and is predicted to be worth $2,276 million by 2024 (ReportBuyer).

How does anti-drone technology work?

Military-grade anti-drone systems are able to detect, track and jam communications between a drone and its operator. The anti-drone systems rumoured to be installed at Gatwick and Heathrow are said to have a range of several miles and uses four radars to give 360-degree detection to identify and track targets.

Some of the existing technologies developed by companies include:


The most common anti-drone systems used in military and defence include laser-based guns and mobile platforms mounted on tanks and other vehicles or on the side of a building. In high-threat scenarios, anti-drone laser guns can shoot down the drone. They are fast and precise and have a low cost per shot.

Lockheed Martin has been developing ATHENA – a new system that uses the company’s 30 KW accelerated laser demonstration initiative.


Drones operate using radio waves, so companies like SkyFence have developed radio jamming systems to overload the drone with signals and interfere with its own transmissions between the receiver and the operator. This can prevent drones from flying into or close to a protected location – as has been shown at a prison in the UK where the technology has been deployed.


The multi-sensor approach taken by Ctrl+Sky allows for the efficient detection, identification and neutralisation of drones. The system uses a combination of radar, RF and acoustic sensors, along with video cameras, to detect even small devices at distances up to 2,000 metres.

The developer of the technology, aps, have even developed a mobile version of the unit that can be mounted onto vehicles.

Palisade® Surveillance Management System

The team at QinetiQ believe that 3D radar is the only long-term solution for drone surveillance technology, considering that other methods like RF could be overcome or acoustics can fail to provide sufficient range. Their Palisade® Surveillance Management System uses the OBSIDIAN radar, which provides a 180° Azimuth by 85° Elevation staring antenna array, to track drones and send alerts.

Will it work?

The disruption caused at Gatwick and Heathrow was a prime example of how fast technology is evolving. One area that needs to keep pace with it is legislation. Currently, it is lagging behind and playing a long game of catch up as law makers bid to build a modern framework that appropriately manages future threats.

It remains to be seen how good value the investment in prevention Gatwick and Heathrow have made will be. Ultimately, it will come down to how effective the measures are the next time a similar incident takes place.

While we await any new updates, in the meantime, keep checking Eurofins Hursley’s Industry Insights for more hot topics and news!

Tags: technology,, drones

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