Civil security research

Questions directed to Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Jürgen Beyerer on the theme of systems for defense against drones

Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Jürgen Beyerer, Chairman of the Fraunhofer Group for Defense and Security
Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Jürgen Beyerer, Chairman of the Fraunhofer Group for Defense and Security

Drones above football stadiums, drones that could also transport explosives, self-sufficient delivery drones, self-learning drone swarms - and the required materials are available in every hardware store. How would you assess the danger of a terrorist attack using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)?

The danger is certainly greater than we would like it to be. From the media, we know that the terrorist militia “Islamic State” has already used drones dozens of times for attacks. In addition, unknown parties attacked Russian military installations in Syria with thirteen drones in January 2018. Systems are used that that can easily be procured as toys or for civilian technical applications - in principle, similar attacks are also possible in other countries.

How much development time does research require for a reasonable system of defense? Is it a race against time until we are well prepared to deal with this danger?

First, one has to make a distinction between the automatic detection and classification of drones, and active defense measures taken against them. While detection and classification by means of optical, acoustic and radar-based sensors are at quite an advanced stage and the first systems are already on the market, the defense against drones, e.g. by means of lasers, water cannons, gunfire, etc. is quite dependent on the respective context (large event, airport, military camp, etc.) and a responsible weighing of the options in regard to possible undesired damages.

Truly effective detection and classification systems may be available in the next two years. One must bear in mind, however, that the drone market is very dynamic and that it is best to also be prepared for unexpected technical developments. Defensive measures, with the exception of special situations, will most likely still have to be carried out by security forces for quite some time. 


There are already defense systems against drones on the market - what capabilities do they have and which do they lack? What is the most pressing task for research?

The Bundeswehr has suitable anti-aircraft systems for larger drones. For the terrorist threat scenarios described above that involve "mini-drones," military defense measures that involve putting them under fire are usually to be excluded. There are systems on the market for civil applications that can reliably detect drones within a small radius of a few hundred meters and then sound an alarm. Based on this warning, security forces can then be requested to undertake the necessary defensive measures. In addition to an automatic warning, however, context-based  automatic defense systems are required. There is still a need for research both on these systems themselves and for their linking with detection, classification and decision support systems. It has therefore proven to be a great help that the BMBF has initiated several research projects associated with this theme and that the relevant Fraunhofer Institutes from the Group for Defense and Security are engaged in putting their special skills to work.


Are the legal regulations sufficient to at least protect us from accidents involving drones and what legislation should be undertaken to improve matters?

The legal regulations are passive in nature and primarily concern aspects of safety and the protection of privacy. In order to enable and promote accountability and protection against intentional threats and abuses (security), we need mandatory electronic identification requirements as well as integrated geo-fencing, which prevents flights over sensitive areas. However, the skilled technical manipulation of such systems for the disabling of these types of precautions cannot be ruled out.


You have been dealing with the use of drones for many years now. What do you regard as the biggest advance? What do drones make possible today that was previously considered unthinkable?


Drones allow virtually anyone to take pictures and make videos of a very high quality from a bird's eye view and even to transmit live to the ground. This opens up a host of new possibilities for private individuals as well as for professional users - whether they are involved in the entertainment industry, in research, in the inspection of buildings or in disaster relief. With camera-mounted drones it is now easy to get a picture of the situation, even in environments where human lives are threatened, as well as to quickly create maps with a high degree of automation for the coordination of relief efforts, and much more.

Many opportunities have now opened up for logistics. It is especially in the delivery of packages to customers  that we will experience a radical change, one that will at the same time also relieve road traffic. Likewise, transport drones will open up new possibilities in logistics in factory halls and on factory grounds.


The four BMBF funded projects AMBOS, ArGUS, ORAS and MIDRAS are limited to Germany except for AMBOS, which is a German-Austrian joint project. Have contacts with international partners been taken up, in order to benefit from one another’s experience?

Yes, that is the case. The danger posed by small drones exists throughout the world, with the results that many countries are wrestling with this problem. For example, we are active in the international exchange of ideas in the context of NATO.