Technology that Counters Drone Swarms

Technology that Counters Drone Swarms
June 14, 2016

Drones may be small – some weighing less than five pounds – but they can cause devastating results if they are armed with weapons, and when there are 10…20…100… in close proximity. Drone swarms can be remotely operated from miles away, fly autonomously, or they may accompany ground vehicles and other aircraft that attempt to harm our troops. And only one of these remote-controlled weapons needs to get through to be potentially lethal.

“Terrorists and other militants can operate small, inexpensive drones loaded with weapons to threaten U.S. and allied forces on the ground,” said Daniel Miller, chief engineer for High Energy Laser Integration at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. “Because of their size, these drones are difficult to see, hard to catch on radar, and hard to shoot at with conventional weapons, particularly in swarms.”

Recently, a Q-53 radar showed it can take on the challenging mission of detecting drones. In a demonstration, the radar system adapted to provide both air surveillance and counter fire target acquisition. The Q-53 system detected and tracked several unmanned aerial systems and provided that data to the command and control post. 

Detect. Identify. Defeat.

communications and battle management systems

To eliminate drone threats, we rely on three steps: Detect. Identify. Defeat.

Detect:  First, a radar like the Q-53 system would detect the threat and communicate that data through a battle management system, which would trigger a ‘kill chain’ to begin its execution.

Identify:  As part of the kill chain, operators would monitor the progress of the targets, and identify whether they are friendly or unfriendly.

Defeat:  To defeat the threats designated as “unfriendly,” troops would activate the laser weapon system, or choose to use a cyber system like ICARUS, to take down the threat.

Responding to a Drone Swarm with Lasers


Lockheed Martin engineers are collaborating with customers and academia to research, develop and implement the technology that will detect and defeat swarms.

“We are currently developing a 60-kilowatt system that combines multiple fiber lasers to generate the high power weapon beam,” said Rob Afzal, senior fellow with Lockheed Martin’s Laser and Sensor systems division.

Because the system relies on many modular fiber lasers, it is easily scalable to meet different levels of power. With this parallel approach, there is no single point of failure that will compromise the laser’s power and functionality – as long as power exists. The laser weapon system can fire over and over, essentially creating an unlimited magazine of ‘bullets.’

Contrary to popular belief, the laser is actually invisible to the naked eye. Once it starts up, it is steadily sent through a beam control system that ensures it can accurately aim, target and destroy the threat – at the speed of light.

Our high power laser approach operates with an efficiency that generates less heat and can be contained in smaller packages than previous laser technology, said Afzal, which means it can serve on board multiple platforms. 

Countering Drones Through Cyber Technology

laser weapon systems

In addition to laser weapon systems, a team of engineers has developed a cyber solution to defeat small drone threats, led by Mike Panczenko, director of engineering for Lockheed Martin’s Cyber Solutions business.

Built from internal investments, the ICARUS™ system can identify and intercept commercially available drones. Its multi-spectral sensor system detects and characterizes incoming drones within seconds, before using cyber electromagnetic activity to disable it or allowing the operator to take control of the drone and move it to a safe area.

“ICARUS is part of the full-spectrum cybersecurity environment by acting in a more offensive capacity,” said Panczenko. “The idea is to counter the drone before it becomes a threat to our warfighters and citizens.”

Looking to the Future of Laser Weapon Systems

“As we prepare this critical technology for the future, we’re already demonstrating the potential of laser weapon systems to take on new threats,” said Paul Shattuck, director and chief engineer of directed energy systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Through internal research and development, Lockheed Martin engineers developed the Area Defense Anti-Munitions, or ADAM, prototype, which has successfully defeated small boats and rockets, while the Advanced Test High Energy Asset, or ATHENA, system has stopped drones and a truck in their tracks.

Today, U.S. forces are making initial efforts to integrate laser weapon systems into their platforms and weapon arsenals. This year, Lockheed Martin will supply the U.S. Army with a 60-kilowatt laser to mount on a large modified truck. The ground-based laser weapon system will be used to destroy rockets, artillery, cruise missiles, drones, and other trucks or ground vehicles.

“Ultimately, we’re working toward a solution where our customers can integrate these systems onto aircraft, ground vehicles and ships,” Shattuck said.

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