Simple, effective protection
for front line units from UAS threats
Soldier Modernisation talks to IXI about their innovative alert and counter UAS solutions
Today’s battlefield is increasingly autonomous – with UAVs playing a key role in elements from reconnaissance and surveillance to remote combat. Advancements in such drones – both commercially and within the military – mean they are now equipped with assets including LIDAR and high resolution optics, along with artificial intelligence allowing mission planning and obstacle avoidance, plus higher payload capacities and longer flight times.
The clearest example of the use of such drones is in the current conflict in Ukraine. “Drones most often serve as surveillance platforms, providing target coordinates for kamikaze drones, mortars and missiles, as well as assessing battle damage and mission status in real time,” explains Dan Hyman, staff engineer at IXI Technology. “They can enter a secure area undetected, land and observe quietly before taking off and returning home with critical intelligence. Others may loiter over a combat zone using precision optics until a target of opportunity presents itself as we have seen in the Ukraine. Some of these missions include the ability to drop a weaponized payload such as a modified mortar round. Weaponized commercial drones typically carry either conventional (kinetic or non-kinetic payloads) but can deliver unconventional payloads including chemical, biological and/or radiological materials.”
Armed forces around the world face continued threats that have expanded into what IXI describes as “technology-driven guerilla air warfare,” using small, lightweight and disposable drones that do not require years of training or millions of dollars of equipment – making them critical assets in modern warfare. Consequently, personnel need the right tools to enhance situational awareness, giving the ability to deploy and support layered perimeters of threat identification, tracking, deterrence and, ultimately, protection. With this in mind IXI Electronic Warfare (EW) has developed both a portable unit in the form of DRONEKILLER, and a rapidly deployable fixed site MUSICON™ product line. Combined with CADENCE™ drone detection and identification solutions, its systems provide layered protection at ranges of up to 10km.
“DRONEKILLER provides a soldier with an all-in-one hand-held multi-band jammer that disrupts most commercial drones’ command and control (C2), GPS, telemetry and video signals at distances up to 1,000 metres,” explains IXI’s Byron del Castillo. “This represents the second layer of squad-level protection where engagements (and target visibility) are typically at small arms ranges and is also used to augment larger vehicle-mounted and fixed solutions as a gap filler in a layered protection architecture.”
When used with a CADENCE™ portable warning system, the technology means a soldier on the ground does not have to rely on human visual or audible detection of an incoming threat, but instead is alerted of drone activity from miles away via either an audible notification through an earpiece and/or a haptic notification. “Most sUASs emit radio frequency (RF) signals from both their ground station controllers as well as the flight platform. CADENCE™ detects the RF ‘fingerprint’ of these transmissions, as each type of drone and controller has different frequency, channel and waveform characteristics that help it stand out from other units,” says Hyman. “CADENCE™ discriminates between these fingerprints and non-drone transmissions and alerts the operator only when verified drone activity occurs. The system further provides targeting information including additional technical details to any connected effector (jammer) systems to help generate threat-specific attack patterns.”
Another development is MUSICON™ – a two-man transportable/redeployable outer layer of protection and detection with full 360° coverage and up to a 10km range. The high-power mast-mounted solution offers greater chances of detecting and effecting larger Group 2 drones at longer standoff distances and elevations than any other handheld unit. When combined with CADENCE XL™, operators receive drone detection information integrated with field maps showing relative bearing to the threat and identifying information in real time. “All this combined provides for greater situational awareness and threat mitigation for our soldiers and allies in this fast-changing environment,” says del Castillo.
IXI’s product lines are all field programmable to identify and neutralize new threats as they arise and are also modular, allowing for quick field swap-outs and independent or unified operation, as well as incorporating a process for efficiently transforming collected signals data into updated detection libraries and effector firmware. “Unlike typical ‘loud broadband jammers’ seen throughout the marketplace, IXI products maintain the capability to detect and neutralize advanced drone threats as they continue to evolve and perform in contested radio environments,” adds Hyman. “We offer handheld, mobile and fixed base transportable systems capable of covering all RF detection and protection layers, providing working options to protect the modern-day soldier.”
For IXI, the key to success isn’t just technology but is experience. “As a high-technology small business, we evolve our products in the lab and upgrade them throughout the field as quickly as our adversaries advance their radios, flight platforms and tactics,” says del Castillo. “Electronic warfare tools must be effective when delivered and remain effective years down the road across multiple theatres against multiple adversaries.” The situation in Ukraine is demonstrative of the changing use of drones, with their threat capability only likely to rise into the future, says IXI. “Drones, as we have seen in the past few months in the Ukraine, have proven their effectiveness in targeting and delivering payloads, and as hard-to-detect (and target) surveillance platforms on both sides. The days of using commercial drones solely for videography have been over for many years, and IXI and other counter-drone developers have been raising the alarm.
Ukraine has now proven that low-asset drones are effective on modern battlefields fielded by (and against) major state powers as well as irregular combatants as found in earlier conflicts in the Middle East. The drone threat will continue to rise with increasing visibility and impact as use cases are showcased by example throughout social media in conflicts like Ukraine. It was only a few years ago that insurgents in the Middle East began deploying Phantom 3s and other early low-cost drones to deploy munitions and expand their reach beyond RPGs and IEDs. Those insurgents demonstrated to the world what harm could be inflicted at standoff ranges, and that drones can deliver more than contraband and surveillance videos. Autonomous drones without C2 and direct emissions of data and telemetry are harder to locate and track and can fly in on pre-programmed routes to deliver payloads. Such vehicles need to be stopped by neutralizing their GNSS receivers, inertial navigation systems and/or their motive capabilities. Separately, Russian drones are already being modified to survive laser attacks and hardened to minimize the effects of high-power microwave effectors.”
Future-gazing in this arena involves the potential for swarms of AI-equipped drones, all intercommunicating and sharing data and processing operations beyond simple autonomy. Those swarms would be able to adjust to a changing environment, proceeding to designated targets as well as adapting to address incoming threats and pursue new targets. Such technology in the skies will also soon be translated to ground, surface and undersea platforms. “Low-cost ocean-based ROVs, like that used in the Black Sea by Ukraine, and weaponized unattended ground swarms deployed ahead of time by hand or autonomous delivery mechanisms could provide warfighting capabilities capable of extended hibernation and weeks of activity instead of minutes or hours,” adds Hyman. “As each of these credible, emerging visions is made manifest, tomorrow’s soldiers will face a truly distributed form of autonomous guerilla warfare requiring an even higher level of alertness and cognitive burden. Our warfighters will need highly automated and tactically responsive electronic warfare on and at their side.”
That electronic warfare is something IXI EW is confident it can provide, focusing on advancing state-of-the-art SIGINT and the means to counter known and unknown, singular and swarm threats, leveraging OSINT, field INTEL, public and private licensed libraries, and the acquisition and testing of new drones continuously in real-world-like environments. With that as its backdrop, and a proven track record in the sector, del Castillo is confident. “IXI ensures our products maintain the security and updated information that delivers a lifetime of service to our modern soldiers, airmen and sailors,” he says, and work is ongoing to ensure it stays that way.
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