Anti-drone detectors are to be deployed around nuclear plants, transport hubs, oil rigs and other sensitive infrastructure across the UK to protect them from aerial terrorist attacks under a £8 million Home Office project.
The Government has quietly commissioned the counter-drone technology which will also be deployed at major public events such as the Coronation of King Charles, the Commonwealth games and Eurovision song contest.
The systems will be designed to enable police and security services to track any small or medium-sized drone and use scanning technology so they can be spotted even if they do not emit a signal.
They will enable law enforcement agencies to better police no-fly zones around restricted sites such as nuclear plants, Government buildings, military bases, prisons and royal palaces as well as major national events.
It is understood that security officials are concerned at the growing capability of drones for terrorists to inflict serious harm and physical or economic damage at strategic sites or major events.
Some 1,000 flights, affecting 140,000 passengers over three days, had to be cancelled or diverted when an unauthorised drone entered Gatwick’s airspace in January 2019.
Major airports have since developed their own detect and destroy technology to counter the threat, but the Government is now seeking to establish similar protections, starting with key national infrastructure sites but eventually the whole of the UK.
Terrorists have so far only deployed drones in war zones although in August 2018 there was an attempt to assassinate Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, with two small drones carrying explosives that were detonated as he delivered an outdoor speech.
Beyond counter-terror, officials see the next biggest threat as prisons where there has been a doubling in the detection of drones used by organised crime gangs in the past year to deliver drugs, phones and weapons into jails.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Office works closely with police to ensure they can deter, detect and disrupt the misuse of drones and keep the public safe.
"We are empowering the police and other operational responders through access to the latest advances in counter-drone capabilities, training, and appropriate legislative powers. However, it is a long-standing policy that we do not comment on security arrangements."
Anyone with a drone that is either over 250 grams and/or has a camera has to register it with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), for which they get a number that has to be displayed on their device. About 300,000 people have registered.
Drones are banned from flying within 150 metres of built up areas while air space restrictions that apply to planes also cover drones, banning them from airports, nuclear power stations, royal palaces and other strategic sites. Local councils and landowners like the National Trust can also bar their use on their land.