Radio Jamming Rifle Claimed To Disable Drones

[Battelle], an Ohio-based non-profit R&D firm has just unveiled a device they call the DroneDefender — a long-range anti-drone defense weapon. It almost sounds like they’ve brought the fictional drone hunter’s RF cannon to life. But does it really work?

According to the site, it uses radio frequency disruption to blast unwanted drones out of the sky. Cool concept, but does it actually work? Unlike the hackable MAVLink protocol used by Parrot AR, ArduPilot and a handful of other consumer drones, this weapon uses brute radio signal force to disable any(?) consumer drone.

There’s a video after the break demonstrating a simulated use of the technology, which leaves us a bit confused. They show the drone slowly landing all nicely after being “guided” down by the rifle. If the system is jamming both GPS and the 2.4 GHz control link, the behavior will all depend on the software loaded on the drone. Some will go to a fail-safe mode, which is low throttle or motor power off, assuming the pilot has set fail-safe. Others may attempt to loiter on IMU sensors only.

According to [Battelle] — the system does in fact work in field test scenarios, but due to US Federal Regulations they cannot show it off.

What we want to know is if it is really as simple as bombarding a drone with radio signals, why hasn’t anyone in the hacker community done it yet? Consider it a challenge — post your progress on Hackaday.io!

[via BGR, thanks for the tip Paul!]

77 thoughts on “Radio Jamming Rifle Claimed To Disable Drones

  1. This supposed attack is easily defeated by a SLAM algorithym like LSD-SLAM. Then just take a phone platform and have maps loaded in. Now your SLAM can match the maps you have and fly back with no GPS, no radio link, and even possibly no IMU.

    The best part is that you could define a safe zone to fly to at max speed. Good luck catching it, and the operator.

    1. If you were in a nasty mood, a drone that implements the guidance strategies used in anti-radiation missiles would probably rattle the operator pretty badly.

      The little ones aren’t all that dangerous; but if you are expecting your fancy zapper-gun to force a drone to the ground and it, instead, goes full throttle toward the strongest RF source it can see: you; I can imagine that you would not appreciate the surprise.

        1. Not really.

          Anything that emits radiowaves is like a strobe to a radar detector. And jammers need to emmit a hell of a lot of the stuff.

          These missiles seek out radio emmisions which typically mean anything with active radar, anything jamming , and anything with a radio.

          1. It may be fairly simplistic in concept, but holy hell is it an elegant solution. “Drones” are going to get a lot freakier a lot faster with this little tech arms race.

        2. During the cold war there was a dedicated “Wild Weasel” mission, with the final version flying F-4G aircraft. I worked on the ECM equipment on them. The APR-38 could pass data to the missiles so you could cherry pick your target, but also could interface with other missiles like the Maverick. The current HARM can acquire its own targets.

        3. When you start looking into defence tech there’s some absolutely brilliant thinking going on. A bit unfortunate we tend to excel at blowing each other up but damn you’ve got to admire some of the cunning behind them.

  2. So they block ISM bands and GPS band (is that legal?) Shooting a 30 degree cone of high energy RF at GPS frequencies skywards sounds like something that would get jail time and massive fines for endangering the safety of commercial airliners .

    1. This is for law enforcement only, firefighters use their hoses! I don’t think it’s something you can buy to defend your backyard, but don’t despair, next Defcon or Chaos Club convention will have an open source version, I bet.

      It’s not legal to jam GPS not even for Law enforcement, so law has to change if the plan is to use it in the US. Such a device would be a useful addition to troops in countries where IED’s and remote controlled hobby gear is used militarily.

      1. I know the video you’re referring to – there’s another version of it that shows the drone doesn’t actually blank out as seen in the mainstream video, the firefighters appear not to actually have hit the drone, and it retreats safely beyond the range of their hoses.

      1. Last I knew it was in the US. No jamming of any kind is allowed for any reason, especially on cellular bands where even listening is technically illegal.

        Personally, I think the best anti-quad-copter gun (they’re NOT drones if they’re R/C!) is a simple .22 rifle.

          1. .22 inches not 22mm, that would be huge. Regardless you are correct, simple gun safety would never recommend shooting any rifle into the sky or trees. Even a simple 22 can travel well over a mile if shot skyward. Bird shot is your best best. Quite destructive to a plastic target at short range and any wayward pellets fall safely to the ground at long range. Although if you are in city limits discharge of a firearm is against the law anyways.

        1. Correct about the Jamming. The Feds regulate the RF spectrum in the US. Only feds can legal jam RF signals. GPS is needed by cell phones to process calls, jam the GPS in a cone and you could potentially impact life saving communication. This applied to local and state law enforcement -according to the FCC.

          Prohibition Applies to Use by the Public and State and Local Government Agencies, Including State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies

          https://www.fcc.gov/document/warning-jammer-use-public-and-local-law-enforcement-illegal

          1. >GPS is needed by cell phones to process calls,

            Don’t think it is. I keep mine turned off unless I need it, drains the battery. Maybe you’re thinking of GPRS.

          2. Ah! I broke my 4G phone, so back on the old 3G one. That explains it. I was wondering about LTE, does it use beam forming to target phones, allowing it to re-use the same frequencies? And is that why moving phones get a lower data rate than still ones?

        2. Hitting a flying drone with a .22 would be…challenging…
          Shotgun with a bird-shot shell is the best choice, the tiny shot quickly looses energy and would be fairly safe to shoot even in built up areas…

        3. I figure that another drone armed with a can of that spray-foam insulation stuff would work pretty well. Follow the target drone and gum up the individual props until the drone can no longer maintain altitude and is forced to descend slowly enough that you don’t cause any collateral damage.

          Although I’ve always thought that drones should be equipped with a voice-band transceiver so that if a drone is presenting a risk, other craft / ground control can speak to the pilot through the drone and correct the problem before resorting to disabling the device.

    2. As the ‘stingray’ saga has demonstrated, cops can get away with some very, very, FCC-unauthorized behavior if they simply refuse to talk about it as stubbornly as possible; and don’t do anything so egregious that the disruption is impossible to ignore(it’s unlikely that stingrays have zero effect on nearby non-target cell users; but it’s close enough to the ‘eh, cellphones just suck sometimes’ level of accepted failure that it doesn’t make the news or anything).

      What this thing does on the ISM band is blatantly unlikely to be approved; and anything it does on the GPS bands is even less likely to win friends; but if you’ve finished using it and it’s back in its travel case with your assorted tacticool-homeland-security toys before anyone even starts triangulating you; what are they going to do about it?

      FCC’s field enforcement resources are pretty slim; and any lawyer or research types are likely more familiar with dealing with dodgy imports and venues using cell jammers; not police departments stonewalling as hard as they can(which, as the ongoing stingray stories suggest, is pretty damn hard.)

      I would definitely not want to be caught with one of these; but I doubt that minor matters of profound unsuitability for FCC approval will keep it out of the hands of people hunting for toys to spend homeland security slush money on.

    3. Yes, absolutely it is illegal. Jamming 2.4GHz may not be as illegal (though it still definitely is, and carries significant fines), but jamming GPS is probably the biggest RF no-no on the planet. GPS is incredibly sensitive (some receivers surpass -160dBm sensitivity), and jamming GPS not only messes with the FCC (which you do NOT mess with) but also the people who run GPS, the US Department of Defense (who you want to mess with even less than the FCC). If anything this is far more dangerous than pinging 5mW lasers at aircraft because you’re potentially disabling navigational equipment.

      1. 3dB would be the signal loss between linear and circularly polarized antennas. Reverse skew sense on a circularly polarized signal can be a lot more than 3dB with a good antenna. I’ve seen 10dB reverse skew sense rejection on very simple antennas where other characteristics were priorities.

  3. Three DD countermeasures come to mind:

    1) Use tethered flight only. Many USN devices are wire-guided. Also turn off GPS-nav too. Only use small gauge wire to cut down on weight payload. Only send control and return video signals and not power (depend on UAV batteries only), This way the gauge could be extremely small and just spool out the wire from your mobile command post. Must have auto-retract spooler to take up slack on return.

    2) Use a VLC method of control signals. Either a high-powered IR spotlight or a diverged IR laser beam. The video link return could also be LED VLC based. Many toy drones from AirHogs use this method of VLC for control-only.

    3) The DD’s advertised range is 1312 feet. However, in the Milspec world you must multiply that by 3. So just make sure you stay above 5,000 feet and you should be OK. Predator Drones love this altitude:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7It7u4LiLjE

    The reply below shows what 2,000 feet looks like to a DJI Phantom. Kinda’ too high, so 5,000 feet may be problematic for a standard hobbyist drone:

    1. Yeah I’d be surprised if the FCC approved a device specifically designed to cause interference.
      That said it wouldn’t be all that difficult to build with a handful of off the shelf components.

  4. Reminds me of talk a few years ago of theater owners wanting to use cell phone jammers. If you direct enough RF power at a receiver, even on another frequency, the front-end is de-sensed. Radio repeater have to use precisely tuned cavities to filter out adjacent channel interference. Plus this device is a lot closer than the controller.

  5. Sorry for somewhat off-topic, but the DJI quadcopters (i refuse to use the other ‘d-word’), have AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL customer service. I’m surprised people still continue to buy their products (just search for DJI customer service, it’s page after page of complaints). Moral here is, if you buy DJI quadcopter, this device here is redundant (since the DJI product won’t fly anyway because it’s manufacturer won’t support it – based on reviews).

  6. it won’t do much good if the drone has an autopilot.
    I’d love to see more with way point and return to home on loss of signal.
    I guess with a couple of air bases down the road from here, lasers and focused microwave guns are out of the question.

    1. like these way of thinking better. Why?
      I understand that everybody like playing with quadcopters and such. But If I sit in my garden, I simply don’t want drones flying over me. and I don’t simply want to “shoot them down”.
      What I want is: hyjack the drone in question, check whatever is has recorded in flight and let the owner know that when I have checked those videos, if he has really intentions to sue me for steeling his toy :-)
      (provided the drones store the recordings locally (do they?)
      Or better hijack it replace the current videos with on that shows a drone destroyed by a pumpgun and a message, that this will happen to if I find unauthorized recordings on it (like some of private property), and then release it to it owner…

  7. Most likely this is a ISR (2.4 GHz) jammer) targeted towards the Chinese toy quad/hexa/whatever copters (I hate when these are referred to as “drones”).

    Ham radio operation is allowed in the ISR band. Maximum transmitter power is 1500 Watts. Run this into a 30 dB antenna and you get an Effective Radiated Power of 150000 Watts (0.15 MegaWatts). Yeah, that would be pretty effective against pretty much any of the :”toys” that you can see.

    1. But you have to transmit your callsign every once and a while ;-)
      Also, since no antenna is perfect, I’d be worried about the side and backlobes warming my hands and head…

      p.s. actual 30dB gain would be very good directional antenna, can that even be done with a helix? :D

    2. Review part 97. As ham I required to use the minimum amount of power need to maintain communications. although I allow to use 1500 watts out of the final amplifier if that’s what it takes to maintain communication. There a re times when hams are redistricted to effective radiate power values. Sorry if I appear jumping down your throat; but hams can use 1500 watts, is one of those Ye Old Truths, that not always true. See https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/97.313 for more info.

      While on the topic of amateur radio have any residents hams on the Hackday staff ever considered creating Hackaday nets on HF? Too bad the amateur radio largely wireless world wise computer network has been if ignored because hackaday@ whatever destination would be fun. Anyway that the hackaday logo can be used as an APRS icon?

  8. >[Battelle], an Ohio-based non-profit R&D

    lol no, how about Battelle Memorial Institute, known CIA front and black budget sink
    also source of a ring -2(thats right, I said MINUS 2, also known as SMM, place where only Intel and NSA lives) escalation working on every intel processor from Pentium up to Sandy Bridge (20 years of exploitation space), conveniently disclosed AFTER it was patched by Intel …..

    1. System Management Mode is meant for things like power management, it’s not a special backdoor for the NSA. At least, it’s not a DELIBERATE backdoor for the NSA. It’s there for a legitimate reason. It’s just recently been found that by dicking with the cache and the memory mapping registers, you can escalate priority to there, and use it to put very strong hacks into. But it’s not a secret, like the REAL purpose of Bitcoin.

  9. This is like using a gun to kill a mosquito.
    If you’ve ever flown a Phantom, you’ll know that once its above 150ft or so, you can’t hear it and its impossible to see, unless you’ve been watching closely since takeoff. By the time the guy with the “dronegun” gets there and searches the sky for a barely visible object, the Phantom’s battery will have run out and he’ll have packed it and left.

    1. Fully automated drones are already on the way in many aspects. In fact there are quite a lot of “semi-automated” toys out there. An example being a receiver module for a quadcopter that can detect if the vehicles is inverted, it will automatically flip it over after a short period of time with no input from the user. It won’t be too long before some receiver systems, as part of their startup sequence (where you go through the full range of your joystick channels for start-up cal), let you set the GPS location & altitude of your takeoff point and attempt for a landing (or at least gentle crashing) in the event of lost/gibberish comms from the user. From there it is a simple step to allow for multiple waypoints,mid-flight updates, etc.

      Fully automated drones can provide quite a lot of good. I get that there are many ways to misuse them, but that really isn’t a valid reason not to explore them. The more seriously we take the possibility of a sky filled with drones, the safer we can make that possibility by making it worthwhile for companies/governments to invest in traffic control systems.

  10. Maximum speed homing to strongest RF source in the event of LoS would be a legitimate safety feature allowing a landing beacon for testing when at the edge of control range (hook strong rf beacons to an “oh-shit button with SMS trigger or something”). It would also turn the ‘copter into an anti-radiation munition in the event of jammers like this.

  11. Thats the nice thing about blocking.. They won’t be able block GPS in this form factor.. as a gun they aim up into the sky.. They will be too may legal issues.. Its going to get stopped.. So they are going to end up only being able to block the control interface.. 2.4ghz (If that don’t get stopped also) But.. The nice thing about blocking.. We can always just swap bands.. If they block 2.4ghz.. We can always just hop up to 5ghz… Block 5ghz? How about a 24ghz drone with a 13km los range?

  12. You also get alot of longer range drones that run on 433mhz. Also most of the drones today use dual frequency, one for R/C control, another for telemetry (which you can still use to command the drone) and then another frequency for video, so I am not sure how well this device will work in real life…

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