There’s no doubt about it in my mind and the minds of many- Drones on the modern battlefield are having the same impact as the advent of the motorcar and the machine gun. It is becoming exponentially easier for small groups to take off-the-shelf equipment and modify it closing the gap between non-state actors and government forces in terms of capability.
The idea of remote aircraft themselves is nothing new; we’ve been figuring out how to remotely fly nearly since Wilbur and Orville first took off at Kitty Hawk. But the technology over the past decade has experienced a renaissance. Rightly so. It has a number of significant advantages- namely, the eye in the sky provides a large force multiplier eliminating dead space (what groups on the ground can’t see), can in some cases provide a communications relay platform, and most significant, provides a weapons delivery system that attacks with little to no warning and carries with it no culpability. From the State’s perspective this reduces the human cost of war and is politically advantageous; from the insurgent perspective, a platform that kills without warning. The examples are in no short supply but their effectiveness cannot be argued; Russian Drones in Ukraine, more on the weapon the Russians used, and the reports of ISIS mirroring the tactical advantage in Iraq.
The technology itself is going nowhere anytime soon and at least in my own opinion, from seeing it fielded at the macro-level, Small Unit level and now at the “under the Christmas Tree” level, it’s important to understand a few things about how they work and a strategy to mitigate the threat. While the Government equipment may not work on these exact frequencies, the common equipment being weaponized by insurgents are all of the commercial variety. First, we know these are radio controlled. So for the commercial models, the frequency data is obtainable via open sources. These devices must be FCC certified. According to the FCC ID for the drone pictured above:
We find that the frequency data listed is:
2.407-2.477 GHz under Part 15.
What shares this frequency space? Well, by using this tool we can find anything and everything listed occupying that space. Doing a quick search of that spread of spectrum we find:
ITU # 9 – UHF Ultra high frequency – TV broadcasts, microwave ovens, mobile phones, wireless LAN, Bluetooth, GPS, and Two-Way Radios (300-3000 MHz)
|2400-||2417||This band is used in the Amateur Radio Service. Operation of unlicensed Part 15 Devices is permitted between 2400 and 2417 MHz.|
|2417-||2450||This band is used in the Amateur Radio Service. This band is allocated for both Federal and Non-Federal use. Operation of unlicensed Part 15 Devices is permitted between 2417 and 2450 MHz.|
|2450-||2483.5||This band is used in the Fixed Microwave Service, the Industrial, Scientific and Medical Equipment Service (ISM), the Local Television Transmission Service, the Radiolocation Service, the Public Safety Radio Service, and the TV Broadcast Auxiliary Service. Operation of unlicensed Part 15 Devices is permitted between 2450 and 2483.5 MHz.|
Finding all of that data via Open Sources, we now have a huge step towards doing two things: Intercepting Drone Data or Jamming and Disabling them. From knowing the properties of the frequencies themselves, we can say that the ground control is Line of Sight, meaning the operator is nearby and can be intercepted themselves. But this is not the only spread of spectrum Common Off The Shelf (COTS) drones operate on. Digging a little deeper, we also find them operating on 5.8GHz for real-time video, or First Person View operation. This means guiding it via a camera. But what if, in the field, drones are being built that don’t use this spectrum? These are for the off-the-shelf or open source models, but not necessarily for 100% of them in the air. The only way to know is to have the capability to monitor the airwaves in that spectrum. None of the low-end SDRs I’m aware of can intercept transmissions in this area, but slightly higher-end models absolutely can. So after reading back over this primer on SDR use from a while back and some experience actually doing it, we can learn once more how to competently intercept the data. All this being said, what you do with the information is up to you but these guys build a pretty good jamming system for the price of a middle-ground AR-15 or you can experiment and build one yourself. I suppose force multipliers are all in what you value.