Secret German drone defence

The Federal Police secures all German commercial airports against unwanted approaches by small copters. Mobile installations are followed by a stationary platform

Obstructions caused by small drones at German airports remain at the same level as in previous years. In 2021, 98 incidents were reported to Deutsche Flugsicherung. This is according to the Federal Ministry of the Interior in its answer to a parlamentarian question from the Left Party. In 2018, there were 158 incidents, which is the highest figure recorded to date.

Despite this, the government is making great efforts to defend commercial airports against drones. The public is not supposed to know which mobile systems are installed there. The reason given is that knowledge would allow „opponents“ to draw conclusions about the technical capabilities of the police authorities.

Interception system with dog-fight

However, some research projects on the detection, identification and defence against drones are known. The FALKE project, funded by the Ministry of Research with €2.1 million, is still running until 7 November. The Hensoldt company, which specialises in sensor technology, is responsible for detection.

An interception system with an „artificial intelligence unit“ from EuroAvionics then engages the enemy drone in a dog fight and shoots it with a net. The device, which is unable to manoeuvre, is then tied up in this way and brought to the ground.

The Federal Police is also involved in the research. A field test at the airport Hamburg was successful from the point of view of those involved, and further tests are currently being carried out on the Hensoldt site in Ulm.

€30 million or 25,000 per airport?

The Federal Police intends to equip all 14 commercial airports under its jurisdiction with stationary drone defence in the future. The platforms are to consist of technology for detection, identification and combat. Two years ago, the costs for each airport were estimated at a hardly credible €30 million; a mobile system was supposed to cost a little less than half that.

In another answer to a parliamentary question half a year later, the Ministry of the Interior quoted the sum of €25,000 per airport. According to it, until the stationary drone defence system is set up, a much cheaper „mobile intervention technology with special vehicles“ could be procured.

BKA operation against activists of the „Seebrücke“.

The ministry has also classified all answers on drone defence at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). This is surprising, because both manufacturers and product names are known from previous enquiries. The BKA already had the SkyWall 100 from the British company OpenWorks on standby during the farewell visit of former US President Barack Obama to Berlin in 2016. Similar to the FALKE project, a launching device shoots a net that can capture an enemy drone.

In addition, the BKA has at its disposal the HP 47 jammer from the company H.P. Marketing & Consulting Wüst GmbH, which looks like a martial rifle. TheHP 47 is integrated into the GUARDION system, which the German police use for large-scale situations such as summit meetings. GUARDION is a cooperation of several German arms companies.

So far, at least two operations of the HP 47 are known, one of which was unsuccessful against a camera drone belonging to activists of the „Seebrücke“ network.

Fraunhofer collects signatures from drones

Countermeasures can also be taken with jammers from the surveillance service provider Rohde & Schwarz. If more robust weapons are needed, the HPEM from Diehl Defence can be used. The unwanted drones are mauled with electromagnetic waves, thus paralysing their electronic systems. Other defence companies, such as the German offshoot of the missile manufacturer MBDA, have already demonstrated the shooting down of a small drone with a high-energy laser.

The critical moment in all defence systems, however, is the timely detection of the rapidly approaching small drones. The Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation is therefore building a „Modular Drone Detection and Assistance System“ with a „feature database“ containing signatures of all known drone models.

The little aircraft are classified with the help of optical and acoustic sensors, and the emission of the radio or WLAN connection is also determined. The platform then proposes countermeasures and ventures a forecast of the dangers that could arise from interception.

Image: Drone defence by Hensoldt.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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