back to article 'Peregrine falcon'-style drone swarms could help defend UK against Gatwick copycat attacks

The British government has funded 18 anti-drone projects as part of its £2m push to stop a repeat of the Gatwick drone fiasco of 2018 – including a friendly drone swarm that will employ "peregrine falcon attack strategies" to down errant unmanned flying things. Among the ideas that have scooped up to £800,000 each in funding …

  1. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Peregrine falcon drones

    That sounds much more PR friendly than Kamikaze drones.

    I'm hoping the command & control of these will be very very secure.

    1. NoneSuch Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Must Be American

      The problem is french fries, therefore we need more french fries.

      The problem is guns, therefore we need more guns.

      The problem is drones, therefore we need more drones.

      1. GnuTzu Silver badge

        Re: Must Be American

        Now, now. The correct term is military industrial complex, which we were warned about by an American president, who happened to be a former general. Just because it's rooted in an economic entanglement with the Pentagon doesn't mean that every American is so overjoyed to be protected in that way.

        And don't forget that old economic trope about the demand, which to some degree pulls in every country that buys military hardware, though I have to admit that all kinds top-heavy markets involve some degree of bully factor.

        And, then there are the ones want to stop it with some non-western military industrial complex, pitting weapons against weapons. Oh, yes, you did point that out.

        I just want to help us get the labels right. But then, we don't live in a world where a balanced, non-polarized view can have much voice. Oh, well. Can't wait to see what way the votes go, as I have yet to be able to predict such things.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Coat

          Re: Must Be American

          military industrial complex

          Are you taking the mic?

          1. GnuTzu Silver badge

            Re: Must Be American

            If it really was just a mic, we'd drop it.

    2. GnuTzu Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Peregrine falcon drones

      What?!?!? Who wouldn't get a warm fuzzy from the term slaughterbots? How about kamikaze killer drones?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slaughterbots

      1. nagyeger
        Mushroom

        Re: Peregrine falcon drones

        Have an upvote for the link. Somehow I missed that video.

    3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Peregrine falcon drones

      Really? How will aircraft land safely when the sky is full of 'friendly' drones looking for the possibly-imaginary bad drone?

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Peregrine falcon drones

        When an intruder drone is spotted, normal flights in the area are put on hold whilst the seek-and-destroy squadron swarms out and kills the interloper.

        Daniel Suarez "Kill Decision" is a good look at where the logical conclusion of this could end.

        1. nijam

          Re: Peregrine falcon drones

          > When an intruder drone is spotted, normal flights in the area are put on hold whilst the seek-and-destroy squadron swarms out and kills the interloper.

          And when they can't find it (because it's imaginary, after all), they'll get frustrated, so the scenario becomes "When an intruder drone is spotted, normal flights in the area are put on hold whilst the seek-and-destroy squadron swarms out and kills the flights on hold."

  2. TRT Silver badge

    It would be much more spectacular...

    If they were 'Millennium Falcon'-style drones.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: It would be much more spectacular...

      Millennial Falcon: an adult bird who can't afford to leave the nest

      1. big_D Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: It would be much more spectacular...

        Thanks, you owe me a new keyboard!

  3. tiggity Silver badge

    numbers game

    If the "bad actor" drones are preprogrammed (no signals to interfere with) and in large numbers then, bar EMP (which would nobble the defensive drones & much else) the defence drones are fighting a losing battle (especially if preprogrammed drones have plenty of unpredictability in their movements (not a nice predictable straight line)

    1. fwthinks

      Re: numbers game

      I suspect the per-programmed drones rely on GPS signals which can be jammed. However jamming solutions today are currently a bit unpredictable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: numbers game

        I suspect the per-programmed drones rely on GPS signals which can be jammed. However jamming solutions today are currently a bit unpredictable.

        Also, deploying a GPS jammer at a busy airport could have other unintended consequences

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: numbers game

          Also, deploying a GPS jammer at a busy airport could have other unintended consequences

          Phone zombies trying to find their way to the terminal clogging up the moving walkways and duty-free like it's Day of the Living Dead???

    2. osakajin

      Re: numbers game

      Unless they have frickin lasers

  4. adam 40 Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    So you have a drone...

    ... and to get rid of it, you launch 20-100 drones?

    What if the miscreant takes control of your drone swarm, what then???

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: So you have a drone...

      what then???

      Throw more drones at them! It's drones all the way up.

      1. OssianScotland Silver badge

        Re: So you have a drone...

        There was an old lady who swallowed a fly....

        ...she died, of course

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: So you have a drone...

          Ah, the 2013 horse meat scandal.

        2. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change
          Thumb Up

          Re: So you have a drone...

          Damn you Ossian, I was going to mention her. Have an upvote anyway!

          1. OssianScotland Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: So you have a drone...

            As my kids keep telling me, if you ain't fast, you're last...

            ...Thanks for the upvote - have an icon on me

  5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Snouts in trough time again?

    "Among the successful bidders were defence multinationals BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Thales and MBDA,"

    Why are companies like this getting funding? This is just the type of project they should be working on anyway because there are customers out there waiting for these solutions and willing to pay. The fear is already in place, they just need a product to sell to allay the fear.

    So, since they are getting MoD funding for the R&D, does this mean once a product is developed, the MoD will get royalties based on the funding? Or discounted prices to claw back the funding?

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Snouts in trough time again?

      "The fear is already in place"

      Funny that is the the first thought I had reading the first paragraph. And then reading there is some tall cash being offered for solutions...

      An incident, that may or may not have really happened has now generated a "security need" which is being funded by the same group who declared the incident in the first place.

      Cause ~ instill fear

      Effect ~ play on that fear ~ Profit!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    defend UK against Gatwick copycat attacks

    defend UK against non-existent Gatwick attacks

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: defend UK against Gatwick copycat attacks

      if I was a conspiracy freak, I would be certain that the Gatwick fiasco was a plot by BAE and other drone manufacturers to spread FUD. In other words, plant a drone, and watch it germinate, in the meantime, busy-busying to provide a perfect, long-term solution to this phantom menace.

      that said, those drones in Saudi Arabia were, allegedly real. Perhaps we should watch out, post-brexit, you know, them pesky, continental "friends"...

  7. thosrtanner

    How about training pergrine falcons to attack drones? That'd be a much more eco-friendly solution

    1. Jan 0

      How well do drone propellers fare against talons? With the loss of some aerodynamic efficiency, could they not have a razor edge and a little more mass?

      1. sbt Silver badge
        Coat

        It's an arm's race. Well, legs race, then.

        Just fit the falcons with cock-fighting spurs to even the odds. They could be trained to attack the soft underbelly. Right in the battery pack.

        Mine's the one with the gauntlet in the pocket. -->

    2. agurney

      How about training pergrine falcons to attack drones? That'd be a much more eco-friendly solution

      .. what would you do when the bad guys start attaching razor blades to the rotors?

      <edit> Jan 0 beat me to it..

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Frickin' lasers mounted on their heads.

    3. JohnG

      Peregrine falcons may be a bit small. Some eagles have territorial behaviour that could be exploited for anti-drone measures.

      https://dronedj.com/2017/10/02/drones-ripped-out-of-sky-by-australian-wedge-tailed-eagles/

    4. phuzz Silver badge
  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was going to submit my idea of trampolines and cats but I didn't think they would take it seriously which was a mistake considering they are funding some machine learning.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Instead of trampolines use catapults. Many of them. And loads of cats. Keep them in air most of them time to create a shield. Since cats survive fall from any hight, they can be reused unless impacting on a larger drone. Call it the Feline Dome system.

      1. KittenHuffer

        Ptaaaaang!

        It seems like getting them up to terminal velocity helps make the landing more survivable for them!

        http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/11/domestic-cats-can-fall-from-any-height-with-a-remarkable-survival-rate/

        So you need to make sure your cat-a-pults are up to the job.

        The biggest problem I can foresee is actually the injury rate to the poor 'handlers' that have to load them into the cat-a-pults! Those poor people will end up suffering quite a blood loss on the average day!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Catapults would have the same problem as machine learning, how do you train them? At least on a trampoline array they are just going up and down and will just do what cats do when presented with a fast moving object of comparable size..

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          I kind of agree - the catapults can also be used to send them straight up. It's been more of a linguistic choice: I believe it's more humane to use cats than tramps.

  9. jake Silver badge

    Do Peregrines hunt pork?

    "One wacky firm is working on a counter-drone swarm that will use "peregrine falcon attack strategies"."

    How can a swarm use solitary hunter strategies?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Do Peregrines hunt pork?

      Not only that but peregrins swoop down from above at very high speed, I have seen a Peregrin take a pigeon out of the sky and hit the ground with it before grabbing it again and taking off for a meal.

      So swarms of Peregrin bots hovering over airports to negate drone incursions makes excellent sense, no?

      My preference would be to clone Colin Furze and station Furzebots around airports on the ground armed with potato cannon, fit a grill on the end of the barrel so that the potatoes come out as chips achieving a shotgun effect. The chips that missed would be environmentally friendly and rot away or feed passing seagulls........ no wait

      If they can be silly, so can I, can I have my money in Euros please?

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Do Peregrines hunt pork?

        A swam of peregrine bots sounds like a great place to hide a rogue drone.

        1. nijam

          Re: Do Peregrines hunt pork?

          > A swam of peregrine bots sounds like a great place to hide a rogue drone.

          Obligatory reference: Asimov's "Little Lost Robot".

    2. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: Do Peregrines hunt pork?

      Well, it sounds sexier than a "Murmuration of Starlings" attack, which is what I assume they're actually going for.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How can a swarm use solitary hunter strategies?

      well, it's REALLY simples, let me explain: if a solitary hunting hunter hunts an X number of European swallow, a swarm of solitary hunting hunters hunts an XXXXXXX number of of drones. Simples, like I said.

      1. KittenHuffer

        Re: How can a swarm use solitary hunter strategies?

        Are you sure they're European swallows and not African?

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: How can a swarm use solitary hunter strategies?

          Easy test: count the coconuts.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: How can a swarm use solitary hunter strategies?

            Are you trying to tell me that coconuts are migratory?

            1. OssianScotland Silver badge

              Re: How can a swarm use solitary hunter strategies?

              Only when they use a trebuchet

  10. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Wait, didn't they discover that the "Gatwick drone swarm" never happened in the first place?

    So we are designing drones to combat other drones, when those other drones were never there in the first place? Obviously something like the Gatwick incident could happen, but do we really need authorities to obsess about it to this extent, considering that they said that it basically never happened?

  11. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    evil terrorist scum: [picks up phone, dials 999] oh hai there's a drone over Gatwick airport.

    controller:[presses big red button, launches a thousand drones] thanks for your call.

    1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change
      Alien

      Evil terrorist scum? ITYM regular teenager!

      Oh, I see what you did. Bunch of teenagers hatch elaborate plot to make it sound altogether more credible than last year's Gatwick effort.

  12. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Love this site

    The first, and best, forum for IT ornithologists.

    I'm listening to awful fireworks, scaring animals for no good reason. New Year in Amsterdam, 1999, and I passed a tree full of terrified parrots. The Dutch are really violent with their fireworks, they fire them at each other.

    The Guy Fawkes mask from the Alan Moore graphic novel 'V For Vendetta' is now synonymous with protesters, but purely by chance.

    It was first used at a protest about 15 years ago by Anonymous, protesting against Scientology outside a London court. To hide their identities because Scientology is OCD evil.

    Alan Moore was very proud when he heard, even though he hated the movie. It was utterly accidental though. I knew the comic and recognised the mask so I asked the protesters if they knew it's providence. They didn't, hadn't heard of V For Vendetta, just chose it because a local shop was selling them cheaply.

    It is a very good comic book.

    Apparently Fawkes would have blown up the whole of Westminster, the district not just the palace.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/11/guy-fawkess-misunderstood-legacy/601336/

  13. Surreal
    Devil

    Yes, of course.

    The only way to stop a Bad Guy with a drone, is a Good Guy with a drone.

    Or maybe a Good Guy with an arsenal -- oops! I meant "swarm".

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "peregrine falcon" drones.

    Sounds brilliant. When can I get one.

    Will they also be used to scare off birds (which actually can bring down a plane)?

  15. G R Goslin

    The usual

    Do I detect yet another 'solution' which costs more than the problem that it's a 'solution' for?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The usual

      So defence drones are circling around the airport. To get some decent endurance and weather resistance, they have to be fairly large. Now one of these collides with an aircraft......

      1. EnviableOne Bronze badge

        Re: The usual

        I'd expect they are stacking above the airport in glide circles, in thery there should be about 1kft dead air above the centre of the airport and about a couple of miles wide, plent space to fit a flock of attack drones.

  16. Boy Quiet

    Rotors are the weak point

    If the Falcon has a large Brillo pad in each claw , it could tangle two rotors. Taking out two rotors on the same side should be enough ( so it cannot fly on chinook style) but “controlling”where it come so down still a problem.

    Another thought - the magnets inside a disk drive are very powerful (disassemble one and “Ouch!”) would that be enough to disrupt the flight control electronics?

  17. MrKrotos

    Spiderman

    I remember as a kid getting a spiderman outfit with wrist fitted with spiderweb gun, cant we just line up lots of supermen round the airport with spiderweb guns?

    1. Spacedinvader
      WTF?

      Re: Spiderman

      Superman could just use his frikkin laser eyes instead of Spidey's web slingers...

  18. SonofRojBlake

    There's a real asymmetry to the cost and complication of the problem and the solution.

    I can buy, online, the parts to build a drone for a few hundred quid. A drone I could preprogram to launch, fly north 1000m, loiter for five minutes, fly west 1000m and ditch in the lake/river/woods/other place nobody will find it. No remote control needed, no GPS needed. Nothing to jam. If the loiter location was over the main runway at ($airport), how long would that put the airport out of action? Or, put another way, how many times would I have to drive by in a pickup and repeat this action with next to no chance of being spotted to bring the airport to a standstill at ($holidaytime)? Hypothetically?

    Realistically the only way to combat this is some kind of directional EMP, if such a thing exists. And in any case, against any kind of organised group or even single person doing this you'd be playing wack-a-drone potentially for weeks. The only other thing you could do is some kind of blanket CCTV surveillance of the surrounding areas, but how far out do you go? Drones can fly FAST, which means they can fly far. The perp could launch from a moving vehicle conceivably MILES out from the target loiter point, and the drone could leave said vehicle extremely fast, making your window of opportunity to connect the one with the other a matter of a couple of seconds, if that.

    To be honest, I'm amazed nobody has done it already.

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