Industry Insights

Drone Swarms Trigger Concern

2020-07-31  |  4 min read 

The warfare environment, by its nature, is filled with secrets. Battles are fought with information and technology that exist largely beyond the public eye. Instead of the manpower and weapons that dominated the battlefield of the past, today’s powers vie for superiority in the electromagnetic spectrum. Deployment of this technology often requires a physical vehicle, such as a drone. With their ability to swarm, drones pose a connected, dynamically responding threat. In the U.S., it was recently revealed that a large nuclear power plant was invaded by a drone swarm last fall.

The site was Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear power plant. According to Forbes, “Documents gained under the Freedom of Information Act show how a number of small drones flew around a restricted area at Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant on two successive nights last September. Security forces watched, but were apparently helpless to act as the drones carried out their incursions before disappearing into the night. Details of the event gives some clues as to just what they were doing, but who sent them remains a mystery.” 

According to the article, five to six drones flew 200 to 300 feet above the site. They traveled around the site, seemingly surveying it, for about 80 minutes. The time spent and the estimates of their size point to them being more capable and sophisticated than hobby or consumer drones.

As the largest power plant in the U.S., Palo Verde provides electricity from Arizona to California. It is therefore a critical infrastructure asset that receives protection. Given the report of the guards being unable to do anything beyond watch the drone swarm, however, the site clearly was not fortified against drone invasion.

In a blog last month, I coincidentally covered a couple of examples of drone defense solutions that were public knowledge (see “Military Agencies Boost Drone Defenses”). Though they use different approaches – lasers versus defensive drones – these solutions represent a growing awareness of the drone threat. Militaries and countries undoubtedly will increase their investment in drone mitigation approaches. By creating a defensive solution and making it known, those forces also are making a statement about their readiness superiority.

A drone swarm performing such surveillance could represent the worst intentions of a bad actor. Or it could be someone trying to steal intellectual property. Often, as occurs with airports, a single drone is simply a hobbyist entering forbidden airspace. In today’s world, however, protected areas also must be defended against drones as part of their overall security.

With our spectrum monitoring and signal analysis solutions, Keysight can help you detect the drone and the controller. Find out more by visiting our site. If you’d like to read more about drone detection, download the white paper, “Monitor Your Spectrum for Signs of Threats.”