Radar and jamming technologies are the keys to figuring out why South Korea was unable to down even a single one of the five North Korean drones that intruded into the South’s airspace December 26.
Even though one of the North’s drones got as far as northern Seoul, it appears South Korea had difficulty locating the tiny aircraft on radar and more difficulty in tracking them. In the end, the South may have lacked equipment to jam the drones’ data channels or satellite navigation.
Because South Korea could not locate the drones, it sent up fighter aircraft to try and find them and, when identified, shoot them down. Although the South fired over 100 rounds of ammunition, not one North Korean drone was hit.
Whether the South Korean pilots really saw the North Korean drones or picked them up on aircraft radar is open to doubt. The pilots might just as well have been shooting at birds rather than unmanned aerial vehicles.
Overall, the performance of South Korea’s air defense against drones was dismal.
The type of drone launched by North Korea isn’t known. Korean authorities claim that these were small drones, but whether they were fixed wing or quadcopters isn’t known.
South Korea claims it has effective solutions against larger drones, although it has not said what.
Truly effective solutions must include advanced radars. Small quadcopter drones use electric motors and the drones are typically made of plastic. Still, advanced radars can detect even those small drones.
The best modern radars optimized for drone detection have features that other radars, including commercial air-traffic control and military sensors, lack.
These radars focus on detecting low and slow drones that can sneak under the coverage of standard radar. Many anti-drone radars have built in libraries that can assess whether the threat is a drone and not a bird or other object, and can even specify its type. They can reject noise and clutter and ignore radar returns from flocks of birds.
A major drawback for drone detection radars is range. Most operate best at short range, meaning one mile or less.
Read the rest at Asia Times.
Stephen Bryen is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.