What Are Anti-Drone Systems and How Do They Work?

The Russians have RLK-MTs Valdai, which are anti-drone systems equipped with special-purpose radars. These systems work by detecting, suppressing, and neutralizing small drones that have extremely low radar cross sections.

The NATO-Russia proxy conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated the significance of drones in modern warfare, with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by both sides for reconnaissance, targeting, and kamikaze attacks. What are the four main kinds of anti-drone defenses? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Sputnik explores.

“The wars of the future will not be fought on a battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots and as you go forth today remember always – your duty is clear: to build and maintain those robots.”

That was the humorous but eerie prediction by the military school commandant in the 1997 The Simpsons episode “The Secret War of Lisa Simpson.” A quarter of a century later, the idea of using drones in warfare has become ubiquitous, and The Simpsons’ comedic flourish has been forever tainted by real-life conflict.

Although small propeller and rocket-propelled reconnaissance drones fitted with film cameras have been around since the Cold War, modern drone warfare, including camera-mounted, remote-operated GPS-equipped spy and strike drones, is a product of the early 21st century, with the United States kicking off the world’s first campaign of targeted killings using UAVs in 2002.

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As small, inexpensive, off-the-shelf drones began entering the commercial market in the 2010s, they started to be used by non-state actors to attack armies and governments – with US-backed terrorists using them in the Syrian dirty war against Syrian and Russian forces, and Yemen’s Houthi militants deploying them against the Saudi-led coalition.

Large, military-grade drones were used to effect in the 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenian volunteers in Nagorno-Karabakh, and, starting in 2022, have been deployed extensively by NATO-backed Ukrainian forces in Donbass and throughout Ukraine against Russian forces. Russia has countered them using a series of domestically-developed drone defense systems. But more on that below.

Drone Defenses: What Types Are There?

In the second half of the 20th century, the USSR and the USA focused their air and missile defense research on targeting big, expensive manned fighters, bombers, transport planes, and ballistic and cruise missiles. Although this included research into fantastical concepts including the use of powerful lasers in space under Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense program, its main focus remained missiles – rocket-powered projectiles designed to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft and missiles.

The British defense minister hinted that AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK, and the US, may involve the weaponization of drone swarms against China.

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