Soldiers jam drones with blocky Dronebuster weapons

On April 21st, drones soared through the clouds above Pula, Croatia like futuristic clay pigeons. Introduced against a beach setting, the quadcopters were actually screening tools for American troops, enthusiast models of the kinds of quadcopters that American troops might now expect to encounter on the battlefield. One goal of Exercise Shield, an air defence and electronic warfare exercise held from April 19-21, was to learn how to counteract these drones and practise using the appropriate equipment. Soldiers pointed blocky gun-shaped gadgets skyward as the drones flew, before sending the quadcopters back to the ground.

The Dronebuster 3B, manufactured by Flex Force, is the tool used at Exercise Shield. It comes in a tan-beige plastic similar to that of early 1990s computer systems, but its pistol grip transforms it from a gimmicky electronic toy into an odd weapon.

According to Flex Force’s description, “the Dronebuster Block 3 and Dronebuster Block 3B were created to disrupt the control of the drone by frustrating the control frequency.” Depending on the drone’s design, this causes it to either hover in place or return to the pilot. While the command link is being overloaded with RF [Radio Frequency] energy, the drone operator has no control over the drone.

The weapon can effectively render the drone worthless by interfering with its radio signals. Dronebusters are able to outshine GPS and other Global Navigation Satellite Systems. This is important since one of the key ways hobby drones can prevent pilot error is by using GPS to go to known home bases.

A paratrooper directs the Dronebuster 3B versus a drone. A familiar rifle sight is installed on top, letting the soldier usage familiar abilities for targeting to intend the jammer.
The Dronebuster 3B is piloted by a paratrooper who is battling a drone. On top, a standard rifle sight has been mounted so that the soldier can use his or her existing proficiency with aiming and directing fire to aim the jammer. U.S. Army Spc. Mariah Y. Gonzalez

In the 2010s and 2020s, the military has established a large number of portable drone jammers. They are one of the less sophisticated attempts to meet the growing dangers on modern battlegrounds brought on by the availability of low-cost industrial drones in the hands of everyone from professional armed forces to insurgent forces. Once upon a time, hunting and war planes had to be at least pilot-sized, making them an easy target for rockets or armaments, but now little drones are a fraction of the cost. To track them down and destroy them, you can use anything from extremely powerful microwaves or lasers to portable jammers, like the ones used by the Dronebusters.

A Dronebuster 3B seen from beneath, exposing the uneven shape of its
From below, a Dronebuster 3B reveals the irregular form of its “barrel.” U.S. Army Spc. Mariah Y. Gonzalez

According to an article published in June 2016 by Popular Science, the Army Cyber Institute at West Point devised a drill to prepare cadets for the use and destruction of drones in combat, anticipating their widespread use in the near future. All prospective officers at the Army’s top academy are required to take part in what is called a “metropolitan attack,” in which a group of forty or two cadets attacks a material guarded by a group of ten or two lower-classmen.

The “metropolitan” setting consisted of a handful of concrete block buildings in the forests of New York, and the drone component of the workout saw the guardians (with a trainer at the controls) flying a commercial Parrot drone as a scout, allowing them to use simulated weapons on their pretend opponents. The attacking squad might use a jammer weapon calibrated to destroy that particular Parrot drone to halt it.

Another soldier sights down a drone with the Dronebuster.
Another soldier uses the Dronebuster’s sight to shoot down a drone. U.S. Army Spc. Mariah Y. Gonzalez

The 2016 incident at West Point may have involved a jammer designed to counteract a specific drone, but the lessons learned are still relevant today. Small commercially available drones like the Parrot are capable of directing fire, spying on troop movements, and generally making life unpleasant unless they are countered. Soldiers on the ground could try shooting it with bullets, but the drone in the sky can see the bright lights of a rifle muzzle, especially at night, revealing any concealed soldiers. Instead, drone pilots are rendered useless if jamming is used to secure the drone.

A Croatian soldier utilizes a QR-07S3 drone jammer system, a various sort of drone jammer likewise formed like a weapon.
Another sort of drone jammer designed to seem like a weapon, the QR-07S3 is used by a Croatian soldier. U.S. Army Spc. Mariah Y. Gonzalez

Since the beginning of the Donbas war in 2014, drones have been used in Ukraine, with quadcopters being used to drop explosives on fortifications. What’s new since Russia’s invasion in February 2022 is the sheer number of drones put to use; one British think tank estimates that tens of thousands of industrial drones are destroyed every month. While some losses might be attributed to normal wear and tear or drained batteries, for those fighting below, bringing down a drone as soon as it is spotted in the sky can mean the difference between life and death. Jammers that soldiers can bring into battle will continue to be fielded and screened by the armed forces. Particularly those that are formed like a gun, as this is a very recognisable design.

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