RAF Regiment antidrone response to London Heathrow drone incident, 8 January 2019

RAF Using Anti-Drone Tech at Heathrow

Drone Wars Over Heathrow As RAF Respond to Latest Alert

An RAF Chinook flew in a high-tech anti-drone radar system following a drone alert at Heathrow Airport, Tuesday, January 8th. Flights were suspended at Heathrow while police and military personnel launched an immediate response.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed deployment of what it called “specialist support”:

Military support provided to Heathrow

The Ministry of Defence confirmed last night that it had provided specialist support to the Metropolitan Police to tackle a drone sighting at Heathrow airport. This was widely reported overnight and this morning on Broadcast and in the national papers.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Last night at the request of the Metropolitan Police, our Armed Forces deployed to assist and support them. Our Armed Forces are always there when needed, ready to support the civilian authorities with our capabilities.”

The Metropolitan Police deployed “significant resources” to monitor London’s major international air hub after a drone was spotted shortly after 5pm. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said that the military was “preparing to deploy the equipment used at Gatwick at Heathrow quickly should it prove necessary.”

An RAF Chinook carrying the system arrived at 10 p.m. on Tuesday evening – five hours after the initial sighting report – by which time the airport had become fully operational again.

No further details of this drone system have been officially released. According to the BBC, the system was operated by the Royal Air Force Regiment.

Metropolitan Police Statement on the Heathrow Drone Incident

Met Police Commander Cundy said: “We are deploying significant resources – both in terms of officers and equipment – to monitor the airspace around Heathrow and to quickly detect and disrupt any illegal drone activity; some of which are as a result of learning from the incidents at Gatwick.

“Following [Tuesday’s] sighting, military assistance has been implemented to support us.

“However, we will not be discussing in any further detail the range of tactics available to us as this would only serve to potentially undermine their effectiveness.”

Heathrow Apologizes for Delays Caused by Drone

Heathrow airport tweeted earlier that it was working closely with the Police following “reports of drones” and to “prevent any threat to operational safety”.

It is understood that the airport’s northern runway was closed, while its other runway remained open.

Disruption at Heathrow lasted an hour, compared to more than 36 hours during which Gatwick Airport was closed just before Christmas following sightings of several drones. Both Gatwick and Heathrow are believed to be considering buying anti-drone technology.

90% of Airports Vulnerable to Drone Attack

Talking to the New York Times, Tim Bean, founder and CEO of Fortem Technologies, said “Over 90 per cent of airports in the world are unprepared for drones. Airports, stadiums, borders, oil and gas refineries – they spend a lot of money on ground security, but I think they now need to think about their airspace security.” Fortem Technologies is currently testing a drone defence system at several US airports.

The Fortem Technologies’ system uses a combination of specialised radar, software and hunter systems to provide drone defence for aiports and runways. According to their website: “Fortem TrueViewTM radar combined with the Fortem SkyDomeTM software platform can detect all careless or criminal drone activity in airport restricted airspace, providing intelligent awareness (alerting, monitoring and predictive analytics) for real-time decisions. Once an aerial threat has been identified, Fortem DroneHunterTM can be deployed for rapid and complete remediation without causing collateral damage.”

Did the RAF Use Rafael’s Drone Dome?

Last year, the MOD purchased the “Drone Dome” counter-unmanned aircraft system (C-UAS) made by Rafael, according to Jane’s. Rafael describe the Drone Dome as an “end-to-end system designed to provide effective airspace defence against hostile drones used by terrorists to perform aerial attacks, collect intelligence, and other intimidating activities”. Rafael confirmed that the MOD would receive a system package including radar detection, electro-optical (EO) identification and communication jamming, however, the laser weapon option would not be included. The RF jamming capability does provide a “soft-kill” functionality, effectively blinding the operator and causing the drone to fly out of control.

At the time of the Gatwick incident in December 2018, the MOD was still waiting to receive Rafael’s Drone Dome and an alternative system was deployed.

Or the Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS)?

The Express reported that the SAS used anti-drone technology during Prince Harry’s wedding to an unemployed American actress in May 2018. Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) is a pioneering world-class system that can remotely detect and disable intruder drones and track their operators. It was previously used covertly at the G8 Summit.

The £1 million Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) was developed by a consortium of three British companies. Horsham-based Chess Dynamics developed the electro-optic tracking system, Saffron Waldon-based Blighter Surveillance Systems added electronic-scanning radar target detection, and Enterprise Control Systems, in Wappenham, provided radio frequency disruption technology.


Image: A British Airways aircraft at London Heathrow Airport, recently shutdown due to an illegal drone incident.