The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) among militaries is skyrocketing. It isn’t just military forces that are using drones. Their use in the civilian world has increased as well, as the technology is cheap, fairly easy to learn, and offers good results. But their use by terrorist groups and hostile military forces raises concerns.
Drones can carry out surveillance and intelligence gathering whereas UAVs can provide up-to-the-minute intelligence on enemy positions, dispositions, and terrain. Drones are also used for battlefield damage assessments and of course, weapons delivery. And weapons delivery is what worries military forces the most.
That is why the U.S. military is currently testing an Israeli-built drone interception system. The new system is already being flown along the Gaza border in Israel, where Israeli soldiers are using it to neutralize incendiary-laden drones and balloons launched from Gaza at Israel.
The Israelis were initially caught off guard by Hamas’s use of incendiary balloons and drones that once deployed, would burn thousands of acres of southern Israel’s farmland, kill, and injure civilians.
Xtend, an Israeli startup, was using its drone system in a racing format for civilian use. But their Chief Technology Officer, Rubi Liani, a former Israeli naval officer, saw a different use for their technology. In a demonstration for Israeli defense officials in 2018, Liani showed how one of Xtend’s drones could take out a hostile drone or balloon within 20 seconds.
Now, a pilot program headed by Israel’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development and the U.S. Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office is working together around Liani’s Xtend’s Skylord counter-UAV system.
XTEND’s Skylord system uses a combination of augmented reality (AR), whereby objects are layered into the real world and virtual reality (VR). The combination is known among techies as “Mixed Reality.” It gives the drone pilot a clear view of the area; the pilot wears goggles to see through the drones’ lenses. The system automatically tracks the target drone with an on-screen hitbox. Once the pilot is just above the target drone, he releases a net, which gets caught in the drone’s propellers and forces it to fall to the ground. The system was initially developed for gaming in the civilian sector.
“Using an augmented reality (AR) device and single-handed controller, a military operator may employ the […] system to control the drone and perform complex tasks remotely, with great ease and precision. Its interface enables the operator to immerse themselves or ‘step into’ a remote reality and engage targets effectively yet safely,” Xtend said in a released statement. “The system’s capabilities have been demonstrated in Israel, with confirmed interceptions of incendiary devices flown over the Gaza border by terrorist organizations.”
According to the Israeli news service, Haaretz, the U.S. military has already begun training with the new system to eventually use it on the battlefield.
CEO and Xtend co-founder Aviv Shapira said that the company’s system picks up the smaller low-flying drones that don’t get picked up by current technology.
“The system’s capabilities have been demonstrated in Israel, with confirmed interceptions of incendiary devices flown over the Gaza border by terrorist organizations. The interface allowed the user to feel the area through the ‘eyes’ of the drone, experiencing the event as if the operator was in the drone, without risking their life,” Shapira said.
Xtend recently released a short demo of its drone interception system in action.
The Xtend program is just the first step in what could be a larger endeavor. The U.S. and Israeli militaries are studying the system to decide how to apply it best.
Xtend already has two other active projects with the U.S. The first one uses drones to scan enemy buildings in order to gather intelligence and the second uses drones to remove bombs from the ground.
UAV threats are growing and the Israelis are developing a plethora of counter-drone technology. The U.S is taking an active interest in what the Israeli firms are developing. The Israeli-made Smart Shooter was chosen by the U.S. Army as a counter-UAV solution just three months ago.