The Counter-UAS Industry has arrived
This is article one in a series of four articles exploring the Counter-UAS industry that will be released in the coming weeks on C-UAS Hub.
Once considered highly niche, drone technology has quietly emerged as a mainstream business platform for various industries, including enterprise businesses, the military, high-end consumers or hobbyists, and, sadly enough, organized crime and other nefarious actors. To keep pace with the explosive growth, the Counter-UAS industry is also rapidly evolving alongside new drone technology to meet growing defense and security demands for protection against bad actors and the drone platforms they operate. This article will introduce the reader to elements of the Counter-UAS industry, explore core trends driving growth, identify limitations that may hamper industry expansion, and share forecasts from business insiders that may shed light on future expectations.
Heading into 2023, the general civilian population has received exposure to drones over the past decade through movies, TV commercials, video games, and other consumer media. The term “Counter- Uncrewed Aerial System” also known as Counter-UAS or C-UAS, carries more mysticism. The general definition of C-UAS equates to the systems and technology that are operationalized to lawfully and safely disable, disrupt, or seize control of an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system (1). Some of the operational elements comprising a Counter-Uncrewed Aircraft System are outlined below.
Increasing drone threat requires further action
Shifting briefly to the military front, the Ukraine conflict has demonstrated to the world how small drone platforms can be used to very effectively badger, frustrate, and cause heavy losses against seemingly larger or better-equipped opponents. As a result, threats posed by small drone platforms have become highly concerning to militaries worldwide.
Criminals operating across the globe have taken notice. Whether for drug smuggling operations, airborne real-time reconnaissance, or using drones to attack critical infrastructure and businesses, they have begun using the platforms to conduct a wide variety of illegal operations.
Threat responses from defense, critical infrastructure, and law enforcement agencies manifest as potentially lucrative contracts to C-UAS companies that can develop or integrate robust C-UAS systems. Using the United States National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a prime example, the US Army’s Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office intends to spend nearly $750 million in 2023 alone towards counter-drone research and procurement of 3rd party C-UAS systems (2).
Thoughts from the industry
Major C-UAS providers seek to pioneer industry growth and innovation through various channels, including technology advancements, customer education, and establishing global industry standards (3). In the early Fall of 2022, C-UAS Hub requested feedback from industry insiders to gain further insight into the direction of the C-UAS industry, the factors limiting growth, and their outlook on the future for counter-drone operations.
According to DroneShield CEO Matt McCrann, “Increased drone use in domestic no-fly zones highlight the need for C-UAS solutions to be adopted quickly and more widely, with increasing frequency of sightings and reports of drones invading airspace at airports, sports stadiums and prisons, public safety, and our critical infrastructure are at risk.” McCrann noted further, “The potential ways drones can be utilized for malicious activities is also increasing, whether on the battlefield or homeland. C-UAS providers will be in high demand but need to respond with agile solutions, ones able to adapt to the evolving threat profile. Otherwise, they risk threat actors simply pivoting or bypassing the solutions put in place to deter nefarious activities.”
AeroDefense CEO Linda Ziemba noted that with illegal drone activity increasing across the homeland and the FAA’s mandatory Remote ID drone broadcast, providers should anticipate increased market opportunity. “More robust systems will still be required to protect critical infrastructure from truly nefarious drones that will not broadcast Remote ID, or will broadcast misleading data to confuse security forces. Companies should take steps to enhance their current drone detection solutions to aid security forces in locating drone pilots.”
Ziemba noted further that other innovations within the C-UAS industry lead to high growth optimism. Recent reports from research firm Markets and Markets show the current anti-drone market valued at approximately USD 1 billion is poised to reach USD 3.8 billion by 2027 (4). Notable trends that are generally expected to drive the explosion in the C-UAS market valuation are summarized in the below infographic:
Despite current efforts aimed at delivering promising future results, the C-UAS industry is not without limiting factors and challenges. VP of Strategic Initiatives of US-based Hidden Level, James Licata, notes that “Some of the challenges impacting the progression of the C-UAS industry center around fitting new counter-drone solutions into existing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and constrained enterprise budgets. Adding an additional layer of security to address three-dimensional threats and fitting this solution into existing SOPs and budgets is often a challenge for customers.” Licata noted further that “Motivated customers who understand the application of C-UAS technology for their CONOPS and are willing to pursue next steps may still face challenges moving from demo to Request for Proposal (RFP) stage as non-standard terminology and unclear requirements such as capability and performance specifications can cause delays and misunderstanding.”
Fortem Technologies’ VP of Government Solutions, Matthew Quinn, noted industry challenges center on certain businesses and federal law enforcement agencies being slow to adopt and trust autonomous C-UAS solutions. “While many international governments and the United States Department of Defense are generally agreeable to autonomous C-UAS solutions, we often see resistance to this approach from departmental legal counsel and certain federal law enforcement agencies,” Quinn claimed further that to avoid unwanted outcomes with respect to the evolving threats posed by UAS, it is imperative that the C-UAS community and service providers fully advocate for autonomous, human-in-the-loop solutions.
Factors limiting C-UAS industry growth
Limitations impacting the growth of the C-UAS industry are further summarized as follows:
- In the homeland setting, airports, correctional facilities, and sports stadiums are generally more proactive in addressing the threats posed by drone technology. Other critical infrastructure sectors are aware of and understand the threat, but it has not yet risen to the level where action is required.
- Legal protections meant to preserve privacy for citizens and integrity for electronic communications often constrain necessary elements of C-UAS response capabilities and lend criminals an unfair advantage.
- Non-defined standards for C-UAS solutions as a whole lead to many ill-conceived solutions and increase difficulty for customers during the evaluation and procurement process.
- Enterprises lack the necessary time, budgets, and expertise to define internal C-UAS requirements and operationalize an effective program, leading many to never start the process at all.
Good news for the C-UAS industry
These limitations may seem daunting, but the C-UAS industry has a bright outlook. The expansion of C-UAS authorities not only in the U.S, but in other countries with similar UAS restrictions around the world is expected to happen and produce necessary standards for C-UAS systems, lower acquisition costs, remove legal barriers that currently assist criminals, and consolidate the pool of C-UAS providers to the ‘best in class,’ or those who can best serve an expanding customer base in need of highly effective solutions. Further integration of next-generation technologies like AI and Cloud (i.e., Software as a Service (SaaS)) will broaden C-UAS coverage and allow streamlined communications with local and regional law enforcement when drone threats materialize.
The risks and potential threats introduced by drone platforms, regardless of their size, are quickly expanding, but the C-UAS industry has emerged to meet the challenge, providing the means to keep the global community and infrastructure safe.
In the next article, a more in-depth look at the products which comprise the C-UAS industry will be explored to better understand what goes into these solutions or how businesses are currently tackling the malicious drone problem.
Next: Article #2- Skimming the Surface: Counter-UAS Products
See article #3 in this series- Counter-UAS Services are a Security Force Multiplier
See Article #4 in this series- Exploring C-UAS Job Opportunities and Events
- Cornell Law definition of C-UAS –https://www.law.cornell.edu/definitions/uscode.php?width=840&height=800&iframe=true&def_id=49-USC-1792285287-545385599&term_occur=999&term_src=title:49:subtitle:VII:part:A:subpart:iii:chapter:448:section:44801
- US Army developing requirements and obtaining funding to counter the small drone swarm threat – https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2022/10/6/army-piloting-pentagon-counter-uas-efforts
- Drone Shield Key-C-UAS Considerations – https://www.droneshield.com/cuas-key-considerations
- Anti-Drone Market projections by Markets and Markets – https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/anti-drone-market-177013645.html