Revealed: The military grade tech police used to defeat Gatwick drone culprits

Robert Mendick
The military grade equipment employed by police on top of the Gatwick Airport roof - AFP or licensors

Police used "military grade" equipment to defeat and find those responsible for the drone incursion which sparked three days of chaos at Gatwick Airport.

As it was revealed that a man and woman were finally arrested on Friday night for "criminal use of drones", The Telegraph has been able to identify the high-tech systems used by the authorities to ground the device and ultimately track those responsible.

Developed by the private sector but commercially available, one well-placed source suggested the systems would cost between £10million and £20million to buy along with large, additional running costs to provide round-the-clock counter drone protection.

Using the above tabbed image as a guide, we look at the system employed to thwart the drone culprits.

1. Drone detection device

Gatwick deployed Metis Aerospace’s Skyperion, counter drone system, that detects drones and tracks their flight. The device can also track the drone’s operator, in theory allowing authorities to trace the drone pilot.

The company is based in Lincoln and arrived on site at Gatwick on Thursday evening. The equipment takes minutes to set up and can track an in-flight drone from about three miles away in seconds.

Two Skyperion detectors were deployed at Gatwick giving coverage across the entire airport. Detection equipment attempts to locate a controller by “triangulating” the signals between the controller and the drone to pinpoint where they are geographically.

The Skyperion consists of six panels with round, white faces giving 360 degree detection for radio frequencies used by the operators to direct and control the drones.  The Skyperion was successfully tested at London Southend airport in May

2. Drone tracker

Working in tandem with the Metis Aerospace Skyperion is the ‘military grade’ Falcon Shield counter-drone system developed by Leonardo, one of the key players in the aerospace, defence and security industry. 

The Falcon Shield system can “reliably find, fix, track, identify and defeat the security threat posed by low, slow and small drones”, according to its manufacturer.

The Falcon Shield consists of two cameras, one for infra-red night-time detection and the other, smaller lens for regular daytime observation. The third lens - the square lens on the right - is a laser range finder.

Falcon Shield claims to be able to take control of a rogue drone and land it safely if needs be.

3. Drone jamming device

Obscured by police officers, the third piece of kit seen on the Gatwick airport roof is possibly a jamming device, used to disrupt the signal between the ground operator and the drone. A well-placed source said a jamming device was deployed at Gatwick and which was supplied by the British military. The source suggested the drone jammer was to be used as backup and as a last resort. Authorities had placed Army and police snipers around the perimeter of the airport and had hoped to shoot the drone down or else trace it back to its operator - rather than jam the signal. “We want to capture the drone not destroy it,” said the source.

Jamming technology disrupts the radio frequencies being used by the controller to direct the drone. Experts describe it as like using a huge blast of targeted noise to block the signals between the controller and the drone.

How the chaos unfolded