Stopping drone assaults on Pope D-Fend options

D-Fend Solutions’ Counter-UAS system protects against a drone attack on the Pope during the open-air church service

By Jim Magill

As the number of commercial and private drones grows worldwide and drones become more sophisticated in their ability to transport potentially dangerous payloads while flying virtually undetected through sensitive airspaces, the need for drone defense measures against potentially hostile drones increases.

A cyber-based drone takeover system developed by Israeli-American drone defense technology company D-Fend Solutions recently thwarted a potential drone attack on an open-air trade show in Slovakia, celebrated by Pope Francis and by an estimated crowd of 60,000 believers.

During the incident, which occurred in September, the company used its proprietary EnforceAir technology to detect the presence of an unidentified drone, then locate, track, and take over it, forcing it to hit its launch site land to mitigate any incident Potential Hazard.

“The drone was repelled without disturbing the crowd itself, so there was continuity and a potential incident became a non-incident,” said Jeffrey Starr, chief marketing officer of D-Fend Solutions, in an interview.

The EnforceAir system enabled the Slovak security forces tasked with protecting the Pope, 90 bishops, 500 priests and other VIPs attending mass to take control of the unidentified drone and safely shoot it down, so like other counter-drone systems are incapable, said Starr.

“We don’t shoot drones and we don’t block drones,” he said.

Protecting the Pope from a drone attack – and ensuring the safety of the crowd

During the Pope’s weeklong visit to the country, D-Fend Solutions used its technology to protect him and other VIPs at a series of events that culminated in the large-scale open-air fair at the end of his visit.

The job was particularly challenging as it involved two different drone defense strategies: VIP protection and ensuring safety at large, crowded events and a number of “friendly” unmanned aircraft operated by the media, communications personnel and security guards.

“When you have VIP protection with a counter-drone system, the person you are protecting is often on the go,” he said. For security forces, it is imported that the counter drone system they use is so transportable that it can be quickly set up and configured and then just as quickly dismantled and moved to another location.

“It has to be able to move on a vehicle for you to have that movable protective bladder,” Starr said.

At the site of the fair itself, which was held in the town of Šaštín, where the National Marian Shrine is located, D-Fend Solutions was faced with other security challenges. The sky was filled with a number of unmanned aerial vehicles doing their job including assisting security and providing communications to the global media covering the event. There were also a number of ground based antennas and communication systems in the area which created an associated radio frequency (RF) interference environment.

When the unidentified drone was spotted in the area, the local security forces initially considered disrupting the UAV’s communications, but quickly decided against this solution as jamming radio signals disrupted potentially legitimate systems in the area and the Pope’s transmissions stop could respond during the trade fair and disrupt the operation of the security base stations.

Instead, the security forces were able to ward off the potential threat using the EnforceAir system from D-Fend Solutions. Starr said he did not know if security officers were able to establish the identity of the owners or pilots of the unidentified drone.

“That is an operational detail that the operators would know. As a technology provider, we don’t know what other measures have been taken beyond the incident, ”he said.

“Most security agencies have their own methods and processes of engagement. Your options depend on the technologies used, ”said Starr. “We advocate a layered approach that uses multiple technologies to provide security agencies with multiple options and levels of defense.”

With two headquarters in Ra’anana, Israel and McLean, Virginia, D-Fend Solutions offers RF-based cyber takeover technology to its customers. The software-defined radio sensor (SDR) from EnforceAir, which carries out all functions of the system, is controlled and configured via an intuitive management tablet.

The company’s EnforceAir Ground-Level Tactical Kit includes an ultra-broadband ground antenna that provides 360 ° azimuth coverage and up to 40 ° height coverage for low-level operations. The kit comes complete with a floor antenna, mechanical brackets and a modular case for easy transport.

In addition to its role in protecting the Pope during his visit to Slovakia, D-Fend Solutions was also involved in providing protection from drones at other international events, such as the recent G-8 summit in the UK.

Starr said D-Fend Solutions’ system is different from those of other counter-UAS companies whose technological approach stems from military applications. “We have a very strong focus on security, control, continuity and secure results,” he said.

Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with nearly a quarter of a century of experience relating to technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring as Senior Editor at S&P Global Platts in December 2019, Jim began writing about new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robots, and drones and their contribution to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has been featured in the Houston Chronicle, US News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, an Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International publication.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.

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