Is drone detection technology part of a counter-drone system or counter-UAS technology? The answer is absolutely, 100% “Yes!”

For those new to the industry or unfamiliar with the unique technology utilized to counter drones, it would be easy to separate drone detection technology from counter-uncrewed aerial system technology (sometimes referred to as counter-UAS, C-UAS, or counter-drone). What role could drone detection technology have in countering or eliminating the threat of a drone in and around critical infrastructure, a military asset, a prison, an airport, or a stadium?

Some of the confusion may stem from a definition found in 49 U.S.C. § 44801, which states, “… a  ‘counter-UAS system’ means a system or device capable of lawfully and safely disabling, disrupting, or seizing control of an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system.”

This article will demonstrate how drone detection and drone mitigation technology (systems designed to disable, disrupt, or seize control of a drone) are each subcomponents of a counter-UAS system technology architecture.  Additionally, this article will demonstrate how drone detection technology by itself can be utilized to disrupt or mitigate the operation of a drone.

Drone detection technology is part of a “system of systems” counter-drone strategy

Before we dive into this discussion, let’s first define what is meant by a “system.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines a system as “a set of connected things or devices that operate together.” In this case, the connected devices that operate together are meant to counter the threat of UAS.

Counter-UAS can be described as the deployment and use of logical, legally authorized technologies, tactics, techniques, and procedures to provide airspace awareness and protection to critical infrastructure, assets, and mass gatherings. This framework can apply to any organization, regardless of its capabilities or legal authorities.

A system of systems counter-UAS strategy involves using multiple detection and mitigation technologies to enhance the likelihood of detecting and countering a wide variety of drone threats.

Counter-UAS operations commonly utilize four modalities, or types, of sensors for detecting, locating/ tracking, and classifying/identifying uncrewed aerial systems (UAS):

  • Radar
  • Passive radio frequency (RF) detection
  • Electro-optical (EO) and Infrared (IR) cameras
  • Acoustic

Drone detection can also include the visual and audible detection of drones from a person located nearby.

There are two primary types of technologies used to mitigate, disrupt, disable, or destroy a drone:

  • Kinetic
  • Non-Kinetic

Non-kinetic solutions use non-physical measures to disrupt or disable UAS, including RF, WiFi, or Global Positioning System (GPS) jamming; spoofing; hacking techniques; and non-destructive directed energy weapons.

Kinetic solutions may employ a variety of measures capable of physically disrupting or disabling a UAS, including nets, projectiles, and lasers.

Some drone mitigation technologies have drone detection capabilities built into the solution. The detection capabilities queue or inform the mitigation capabilities of the technology.

If the drone mitigation technology does not have drone detection capabilities directly engineered into the solution, it is queued by external drone detection technology. Either way, drone detection and mitigation solutions are unmistakeably intertwined within the counter-UAS system architecture.

Tools to mitigate the threat of a drone are not isolated to kinetic and non-kinetic drone mitigation technologies. Drone detection solutions are frequently used to find the drone operator’s location and/or home/takeoff location in both homeland security and defense/military operations, where operation-applicable techniques can be used to disrupt the drone’s operation without drone mitigation technology.

This technique has been used for years in the homeland environment to mitigate the risk that unauthorized drones pose to stadiums, prisons, airports, and other critical infrastructure.

In July, a former corrections officer was arrested near the Lawton Correction Facility after law enforcement was alerted to his pilot/home location during an attempt to deliver contraband into the prison.

In early October, an unauthorized drone operation occurred over Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The drone operation caused a temporary delay in the football game between Ohio State and Maryland. The drone operation was disrupted when law enforcement located and arrested the pilot for several criminal violations.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department also used this technique at the Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix earlier in November. Using a combination of RF drone detection technology and surveillance camera technology, the law enforcement agency was able to detect a drone flying in the restricted airspace for the event, track/locate the pilot and the drone, classify/identify the threat, and use authorized measures to neutralize the threat, a process that is described in further detail below.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security C-UAS Processing Chain Descriptions

Various textbooks, guides, and references regarding counter-UAS describe the counter-UAS processing chain, or as it is sometimes called, the counter-UAS kill chain.

The Department of Homeland Security describes the C-UAS processing chain as “a framework for approaching the potential threat posed by UAS.”

In this process or framework, drone detection technologies are used to detect and assess the threat (detect to classify/identify). When appropriate, mitigation technology or other actions can be taken to neutralize (mitigate) the drone threat. You could also argue that drone technologies could be used in a notional fifth step of the process- battle damage assessment to ensure the drone threat was neutralized or resolved.

Graphic of the different versions of a Counter-UAS processing chain
Examples of Counter-UAS Processing Chains. These are often referred to as Counter-UAS Kill Chains (Graphic Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security)


It is important to note that no matter which counter-UAS processing chain or kill chain you may use, the process does not start with mitigating, defeating, or neutralizing a drone. Mitigation can not effectively happen without prior detection, tracking/locating, and classifying/identifying capability from drone detection systems that are separate or integrated directly into the drone mitigation technology.

Descriptions of the processing chain stages, as referenced in the Department of Homeland Security Counter-UAS Technology Guide are as follows:

  • Detect– A detection is a declaration that a UAS is in the presence of a sensor.
  • Locate– A location is a static estimated report or display of where a GCS or UAV is located at a given moment.
  • Track– A track is a compilation of location reports over a period of time.
  • ClassifyClassification is the assignment by the C-UAS technology (either autonomously or by an operator) of a potential target UAS to a high-level category such as UAS type, group, manufacturer, and/or specific communication protocol.
  • IdentifyIdentification is the assignment by the C-UAS technology (either autonomously or by an operator) of a UAS to a more specific name or category, such as the physical address of its modem or the exact make/model of the UAS. The terms classify and identify are often used interchangeably but can have different meanings for different audiences.
  • MitigateMitigate is often used interchangeably with negate, interdict, or neutralize. It describes the methods used to remove or reduce the threat posed by a drone. Mitigation includes using kinetic or non-kinetic capabilities and any capability or action associated with finding the drone operator and having the person safely land the drone.

The information acquired during the Detect, Locate, Track, Classify, and Identify steps of the process are all used to assess the threat of the drone or UAS. Using available information, the operator must conduct a threat assessment to determine whether the drone presents a threat and, if assessed as a threat, which tool(s) to use to reduce or eliminate the assessed threat of the drone. Operators can’t go straight to mitigate without going through one or more steps of this logical process.

Perspectives from the NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre

The NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre textbook, A Comprehensive Approach to Countering Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Detection, Decision-making, and Neutralization, are categorized as Reactive Countermeasures to mitigating the drone threat as part of an overall “C-UAS Methodology” concept.

The book describes detection by noting, “As a prerequisite for any further countermeasures, the existence of a threat must first be identified. Detection is the first action in a series of active measures against UAS or drones, and therefore time is one of the most critical factors. In general, detection must take place at the earliest possible time and the furthest measurable distance.”

The Counter-UAS Methodology Graphic
Counter-UAS Methodology from the Joint Air Power Competence Centre textbook- A Comprehensive Approach to Countering Unmanned Aircraft Systems


The textbook further describes the purpose of “C-UAS Systems” as being “… designed to detect and then engage the threat, and some systems have indeed proven to be quite successful in fulfilling their mission.”

An additional perspective- “The CUAS Kill Chain”

In a recent article, David Kovar, CEO and Founder of URSA Inc., extends the CUAS Kill Chain beyond the initial steps of Detect, Identify, Locate, Track, and Disable, to include the additional steps of Analyze and Attribute.

Kovar explains that following the disabling or mitigating of the drone, it is essential to analyze the incident comprehensively, analyzing the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” aspects related to its operation. If feasible, attribute the operation to an individual, group, or potential threat actor. Finally, integrate the outcomes of these steps back into the kill chain through intelligence sharing.

The CUAS Kill Chain perspective from David Kovar includes Detect, Identify, Locate, Track, Disable, Analyze, and Attribute
Image Credit: David Kovar, URSA, Inc.


Similar to the Department of Homeland Security counter-UAS processing chain and the Joint Air Power Competence Centre C-UAS Methodology, Kovar’s version of the process to counter-UAS includes technology or techniques to detect, identify, locate, and track drones in addition to technology to disable a drone threat.

Center for Strategic and International Studies Air Defense Kill Chain

In a recent report released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), titled “Countering Uncrewed Aerial Systems- Air Defense by and for the Joint Force,” the term “air defense” is defined broadly as “detecting and defeating airborne threats flying from surface to space.” The CSIS definition recognizes the role played by detecting the threat as a prerequisite for defeating it in the overall air defense concept.

The CSIS Air Defense Kill Chain- Detect, Track, Identify, and Engage
The Air Defense Kill Chain (Credit: CSIS Missile Defense Project)


This air defense kill chain concept is illustrated with the components of the Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target, or PATRIOT system, which is not just the missile built to counter airborne targets. The PATRIOT missile defense system consists of six major components: a 1) missile, 2) launcher, 3) radar set, 4) control station, 5) power generator unit, and 6) high-frequency antenna mast.


Whether your agency or organization uses the counter-UAS processing chain, C-UAS Methodology, Air Defense Kill Chain, or CUAS Kill Chain, drone detection technology is essential in identifying and assessing the drone threat and, if necessary, informs the operator of the system of the most appropriate tool(s) or methods to counter the threat.

Drone detection technology should not be categorized separately from counter-UAS technology. It is, in fact, an integral component of a counter-drone system or counter-UAS technology architecture. Drone detection technology, airspace awareness technology, drone mitigation technology, data and network, software, and other essential elements are all vital subcomponents of “connected things or devices that operate together” to provide airspace awareness and protection or counter the threat of UAS.

Post Image Credit: Adobe Stock by jamesteohart