Drones are the pinnacle of modern technology – human ingenuity at its finest. In recent years, unmanned aerial vehicles have reached new levels of precision and innovation, presenting a superb example of state-of-the-art engineering.
Drones are an excellent illustration of how humans can outsmart one another through improvisation. The Economist called it “asymmetric warfare”; on the one hand, high-tech weapons and drones, and low-tech, homemade, disposable UAVs on the other. In this classic David vs Goliath story, small DIY drones are challenging the counter-drone market. While it is unlikely that the weak will defeat a powerful warrior, homemade UAVs pose a serious threat.
DIY drones are relatively easy to assemble compared to other military hardware, as many parts are cheap and readily available. The many “how-to” guides for building drones online and instructional videos on YouTube enable anyone to do so. As its name implies, the DIY drone can be made at home by amateurs and hobbyists and is usually crudely constructed with metal, plastic, and even wood.
DIY or homemade drones became a significant threat to conventional armed forces in the Syrian civil war; one incident was reported in January 2018 as 13 homemade drones attacked Russian troops in Syria. The craft involved in these attacks “resembled hobbyists’ model aircraft. They had three-meter wingspans… and were powered by lawnmower engines. Each carried ten homemade shrapnel grenades under its wings… The drones were guided by GPS and had a range of 100km. The electronics involved were off-the-shelf components, and the total cost of each drone was perhaps a couple of thousand dollars.”
Between 2016 and 2021, the Houthis reported over 4,000 drone and missile strikes on Saudi targets. In some attacks, the Islamist group allegedly used commercially available hobbyist UAVs stolen from a local television station. Furthermore, the Islamic State (IS) has used commercially available drones crudely weaponized using plastic tubes containing small munitions attached to the base of the drones.
The DIY community is using drones to combat Russian forces in Ukraine. Various Ukrainian volunteer groups, IT experts, non-experts, and private drone pilots joined forces to build non-military homemade drones equipped with military capabilities. The DIY drones are made of over-the-counter kits, 3D printed parts, and other components from a Chinese online retailer. Their payloads include bottle-sized anti-tank grenades designed to penetrate Russian armour.
“In the current situation of global geopolitical uncertainty, unexpected scenarios and threats emerge almost every day. From the operational point of view, the proliferation of DIY drones is one of the biggest challenges we face. A major problem is countering these types of drones”, says Itzik Huber, CEO of Skylock C-UAS.
Skylock, part of the Avnon HLS Group, provides counter-drone technologies for detecting, verifying, and neutralizing unauthorized drones. “Skylock offers a complete range of anti-drone solutions for the detection and neutralization of DIY drones.” Huber continued, “Skylock’s main solution for this particular problem is our Premium Radar system, with a passive sensor, tracking camera, and a kinetic neutralizer.”
“DIY drones typically consist of generic components, which the RF detector is able to detect and identify. When the frequency of the DIY drone is detected, a blocking system can neutralize it. Skylock’s Radar can detect the drone’s location at up to 5 km (depending on the drone’s size) and then perform an optical tracking process. If a DIY drone is not detected by passive sensors, it is blocked either by taking over the target’s navigation and control systems or using the kinetic neutralizer.”.
As we can see, DIY drones are used by guerrilla organizations to disrupt and damage modern armies. However, the innovative capabilities of counter-drone technology are still unbeatable.