The theme of this year's Galileo Masters 2020 was 'Mission High Precision'. The organisers were looking for innovative, application-oriented technology and solutions for Galileo and other Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). As part of the contest, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) established the DLR challenge 'Safety, Cybersecurity and High-Accuracy meet Autonomy and Automation'. On 8 December 2020, Saulius Rudys was announced as the DLR winner of the Galileo Masters 2020 for his idea for neutralising the GNSS systems of unidentifiable or potentially hostile aircraft without interfering with GNSS frequencies. This method can increase security in airspace and, most importantly, ensure better protection for critical infrastructure.
"The winners have delivered a highly promising solution that was precisely tailored to our call for ideas, and which is also completely new to this specialist industry," said Rolf-Dieter Fischer, who chaired the jury of DLR experts. "It is very positive that such an approach would be effective against the standard drones we are seeing today, which make up the majority of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)." According to Fischer, "The uniqueness of this proposal meant that the jury members clearly voted in favour of it."
More security and protection against hostile drones
Technologies for UAVs have seen rapid development in recent years. However, while such technologies offer significant benefits, in some cases they can also present a threat. UAVs can cause disruption around airports or exploit vulnerabilities in other critical infrastructure – transporting illegal items across borders, for instance, or carrying out tasks for terrorists. Most UAVs use GNSS for navigation, so the idea from Rudys’ team aims to neutralise GNSS systems effectively and safely in the event of a potential problem.
Transmitting interfering signals in the GNSS frequency bands – referred to as jamming – is the most common method of rendering an encroaching UAV harmless. However, such interference can also endanger crewed aircraft on the same GNSS frequencies and thus affect authorised GNSS users. With that in mind, the DLR winners have suggested a new concept for selective GNSS interference, whereby non-linear effects in semiconductor elements are used to interfere with the electronic circuits of UAVs.
Advantages of selective GNSS interference
The solution offers a safe and selective method for neutralising hostile devices and vehicles that use GNSS. There is no interfering radiation at GNSS frequencies, so other GNSS users are not affected. Using the winning idea, selective UAV interference could even be used in airport areas. In addition, any crewed aircraft that moved into the beam would be safe, as the interference efficiency depends on the distance and capacity of the jamming device. The concept also offers the option of imposing spatial limits on GNSS interference. This means that the power of the high-frequency radiation can be concentrated into a much narrower beam.
"In addition to the remarkable technological development, this idea will allow us to counteract the misuse of UAVs in a targeted and precisely controlled manner. This will help foster general acceptance of autonomous aircraft, while also ensuring the necessary security and GNSS availability. The winners and DLR will now proceed to develop the project, with a view to achieving greater control without collateral damage," concludes Fischer.
The team’s novel method tackles one of today's growing problems. Protecting critical governmental and public infrastructure and private business premises is extremely important, so this method can offer greater security across many sectors of society.