Rogue drones to be targeted by new hi-tech 'detect and destroy' unit set up by Home Office

Charles Hymas
Drone threat to airports - PA Archive/PA Images

Rogue drones will be brought down by “detect and destroy” technology under plans for a new national counter-drone force to prevent Gatwick-style disruption, ministers have announced.

The new mobile special unit, to be set up by the Home Office, will be available to any police force or law enforcement agency in the UK to counter potential drone threats at major events or malicious attacks such as the chaos at Gatwick airport last Christmas.

The unit is expected to have military-grade cameras, radar and radio frequency scanners to detect rogue drones, similar to those deployed by the Army at Gatwick.

To bring them down, there is electronic jamming equipment and shoulder-launched bazookas that fire projectiles which deploy a net as they near a drone, ensnare it and float it to the ground with a parachute. 

A bazooka with a 100 metre range has been tested by police at Heathrow while a more powerful version capable of reaching 300 metres is being developed.

The planned unit is part of a three-year “counter-drone” strategy which includes a new international standard for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) where all would be fitted with “geofencing.” This uses their GPS to stop them flying over sensitive sites like power plants, airports or prisons.

It follows an agreement last month by the Five Eyes group of nations - the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand -  to “identify what more could be done at the manufacturing stage to mitigate drone risk by design.”

The Telegraph understands that aviation watchdogs led by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) want all drones to have an electronic “licence plate” so they can be detected in the sky and their ownership immediately established.

Planned new laws will give police more powers to search premises for potential rogue drone operators and issue £100 penalty notices for minor drone violations.

From next month all owners of drones weighing more than 250 grammes will be required by law to register their device with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take an online safety test. Anyone who fails to do so faces fines of up to £1,000.

Brandon Lewis, the Security Minister, said: “This Government is proud of the UK’s burgeoning drone industry and we will do all that we can to ensure that the UK firmly establishes itself as a world leader in this industry.

“But to ensure the drone industry can thrive in this country we must be able to crack down effectively on those who would use drones to cause harm or disruption.

“There is no silver bullet to help protect our infrastructure and our citizens from malicious or careless drone use. That’s why this strategy outlines a broad range of work to ensure we can effectively tackle the threat.” 

A new Government-industry group is to be established to research and test the latest counter-drone equipment for use by the new anti-drone force and by police forces, most of which have their own drone technology to help map accidents, search and rescue.

New national police guidance will be drawn to help forces tackle malicious drone incidents and a new national standard will be established for police recording of illegal drone activity to build a picture of the drone threat.

There were 168 police recorded drone incidents in England and Wales in 2018, and 165 drones were recovered at prisons in 2016 and 2017.

The use of drones has grown rapidly with more than 5,000 commercial operators currently registered in the UK. The industry is expected to contribute an extra £42 billion to the UK economy by 2030, with more than 76,000 commercial and public sector drones expected to be in use by this date.