Defence against drones: 420 million Euro for German airports

The German Federal Police wants to equip 14 airports against unwanted drones. The government estimates the costs for each system at 30 million euros. A prototype is currently being tested in Hamburg by an armaments company and the Bundeswehr.

The German government is planning the nationwide introduction of a permanently installed drone defence. This was written by the Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology, in response to a written question. A total of 14 German commercial airports are to be equipped with such a system. The costs were recently outlined by the government in its answer to a minor interpellation. These would be „currently valued at €30 million per airport“. In total, the technology might then cost around €420 million.

The systems consist of different components. Initially, they are to detect and classify approaching drones with the help of sensors. For this purpose, a query is made with a database of all known drones, which also contains options for disrupting or engaging. The aircraft is then assigned to a threat level. The incident is immediately reported to the responsible organisations or authorities. They will then decide on countermeasures.

Interception drone performs „automated removal“

Until recently, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research funded the development of corresponding procedures in four other projects for the detection and interception of unmanned aircraft with around nine million Euros. These projects involved identification using antennas and radar systems as well as sensors that determine the electronic „fingerprint“ of the flying objects. Countermeasures can be carried out either with jamming signals or with small drones equipped with a net for interception.

The Ministry of Transport is currently testing a prototype of the planned system against „illegally operating drones“ at Hamburg Airport. The „Falke“ („Falcon“) project plans to counter unmanned intruders with an interceptor drone without human intervention. In „Falke“ this is described as „technology for automated capture“. The two drones are to conduct a „dogfight“. If successful, the airport drone would also carry out the „automated removal“ of the intruding drone.

The Hamburg defence system is made by the Hensoldt company, which used to belong to the Airbus armaments group. Also involved is the German company EuroAvionics, which manufactures electronic devices for helicopters and drones. Following a takeover in 2017, EuroAvionics now also belongs to Hensoldt. Another partner in „Falke“ is the Hamburg University of the Bundeswehr, with the Federal Police and Lufthansa AG also on board. In December, the parties involved in „Falke“ received 2.1 million euros from the Ministry of Transport, the funding notice was handed over personally by its Minister Andreas Scheuer.

Close cooperation between the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of the Interior

The detection and defence against drones at airports is the task of the Federal Police and thus falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior. In the approach and departure area of commercial aircraft, however, the Ministry of Transport is responsible for the detection of unwanted drones. The two ministries therefore work closely together in drone defence. The Federal Police are currently drawing up a timetable for its nationwide introduction. The German Air Traffic Control will provide a „technical data interface“ between detection and defence and thus between the two ministries.

A „Drones Coordination Unit“ evaluates drone related findings from the police, judicial, military and air traffic sectors and organises regular meetings for the authorities involved.

As far as is known, incidents involving unwanted drones at airports are declining. Whereas 158 incidents were registered in 2018, in 2019 there were only 125.

Image: The ministers Scheuer and Seehofer want to destroy drones at airports by using nets (all rights reserved MIDRAS).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.