Land, sea and air: EU Member States test drones for border surveillance

In the ROBORDER security research project, border authorities and the military are testing various drones for controlling land and sea borders. They are supposed to operate in swarms. The border agency Frontex should benefit from the results. German companies are also involved in the research.

Ministries of the Interior and Defence from Portugal, Hungary and Greece are testing manned and unmanned platforms for border surveillance. In the EU project ROBORDER, Hungary is interested in securing land borders with an unmanned ground vehicle, while Greece is using a long-range drone and an aircraft. Portugal uses a surface and an underwater drone in the Atlantic.

The drones should operate independently and in swarms. They are equipped with various sensors whose images are combined in a mobile situation centre. Different communication links are examined for transmission.

Land drone with quadrocopter

Tests of ROBORDER are carried out in different scenarios. In Hungary, a situation is assumed to have occurred in the Serbian-Hungarian border town of Röszke in 2016. Thermal imaging cameras were used to detect people who wanted to get to Hungary through a hole in the border fence. A small drone is said to have been deployed from the Serbian side of the border. Only the next morning the irregular migrants were supposed to have been searched for by helicopters and patrol cars.

UGV „Guardian“ from ROBOTNIK (ROBORDER).

The unmanned ground vehicle used in ROBORDER is built by the company Robotnik from Spain and is equipped with a camera on a three meter high mast. The four-wheeled land drone should be able to travel on unpaved roads even in mud, snow and bumps. The vehicle has been modified to carry a small drone. The quadrocopter was made by the German company Copting.

Manned vehicles from Germany

In Greece, the authorities are testing an „unauthorised border crossing“ at a maritime border. It is based on a scenario on the Aegean island of Kos, only a few kilometres from the Turkish coast. According to the project website, a drone from the Portuguese company Tekever is to be used there, but according to the magazine The Intercept, the manufacturer has withdrawn from ROBORDER for unknown reasons.

UUV from OceanSCAN (ROBORDER).

In addition to unmanned aerial vehicles, radar systems and thermal imaging cameras will also be tested in the Aegean. In addition, an aircraft of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft will be used, which will also carry a radar device. If the systems report an unknown or suspicious vessel, the authorities launch an underwater drone to check it. In ROBORDER, a device from the Portuguese company OceanScan is used for this purpose.

A control centre set up on a Greek patrol boat receives the images. A software automatically classifies people and objects. A mobile situation centre will also be set up in a vehicle of the German manufacturer Elettronica. Under the name „Multirole operations support vehicle“ (MUROS), the company distributes Mercedes Sprinters that can be equipped with various monitoring sensors. In Germany, the police use the MUROS as a „Preservation of Evidence and Documentation Vehicle“ with retractable video cameras and microphones.

Results can also be used for military purposes

USV (ROBORDER).

A third strand of ROBORDER investigates the use of unmanned platforms by damaged ships which, as in the case of the tanker „Prestige“ in 2002, can pollute large parts of the coast. In the event of an accident, surface and underwater drones are to measure currents, wind, waves and the temperature of the sea surface. The unmanned systems will also detect oil slicks and measure their distribution.

The EU Commission estimates the total ROBORDER project at around 9 million euros, of which only one million must be borne by the project participants themselves. The rest comes from the EU Framework Programme for Security Research „Horizon 2020“. The tests are to be completed by February 2021. The results of ROBORDER will then be used within the framework of EUROSUR. The border surveillance system links the facilities of all EU member states with an external border. Information collected there will be processed at the headquarters of the Frontex border agency in Warsaw.

The EU’s „Horizon 2020“ programme may only finance civil research. However, media such as The Intercept had pointed out that the results could also be used for military purposes, for example by the NATO Science and Technology Organization involved and the Greek Ministry of Defence.

Image: Overview of the ROBORDER architecture (ROBORDER).