With the rise of drones also comes the rise of counterdrone tech. And while there are all sorts of potential counterdrone solutions including monitoring equipment like radar, radio frequency analyzers, or acoustic and optical sensors, as well as High Power Microwave (HPM) devices, drone nets and lasers, there’s another solution that’s been a hot topic in the drone industry as of late: drone GPS jamming.
Many drones rely on GPS (as do other technologies like ship and cargo fleets, and even your smartphone) for navigation and tracking. But some bad actors are trying to jam those GPS signals.
InfiniDome, which is an Israel-based GPS security company founded in 2016 that builds all sorts of products, but it’s big focus area is on building GPS signal protection systems. And this summer, Infinidome put out a white paper shedding some light on how drone GPS jamming works — and is pretty thought-provoking in terms of showing how vulnerable GPS (GNSS) systems can be to jamming attacks.
You can download and read the entire GPS jamming white paper from infiDome here, which I’ve used to help explain this ‘in-a-nutshell’ overview of the most important things to know about drone GPS jamming. Here you’ll learn why people try to jam drone GPS signals, how they do it, and solutions to prevent against it.
Why is drone jamming happening — and why is it a problem?
There are all sorts of reasons why folks want to jam GPS signals for drones, including defense applications so that an enemy drone gets lost or crashes. While drones are used for systems like aerial surveillance to catch drug traffickers, those drug cartel criminals have been known to use drone jammers to prevent that. In fact, Mexico reported the use of jammers in 85% of all documented cargo truck thefts, according to The Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, a scientific and educational nonprofit in Virginia with a goal to protect critical infrastructure through tech such as InfiniDome’s.
And it’s not just big military or serious legal use cases. A drone light show over a mall in Zhengzhou, China, went awry, with drones falling from the sky and endangering the 5,000 onlookers, because someone used a drone jammer.
In short, being prepared for an attack on your drone from GPS jammers is critical, even if you don’t necessarily think there is a clear enemy trying to take down your drone. It’s happening at drone light shows, too.
Drone jamming might not be all bad
That’s not to say all drone jamming is necessarily bad or nefarious. In fact, sometimes it could be perceived as the opposite. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration turned to counterdrone company Dedrone to help with research on drone jammers to ensure unwanted drones aren’t flying anywhere near airports and posing a safety risk to flights full of people. The Department of Defense is also using drones to protect classified areas or other spots that demand security, among other examples.
InfiniDome put together a video about drone jamming (which also serves as an ad for its products), which you can watch here:
How does drone GPS jamming actually work?
So how does drone GPS jamming actually work?
Drone GPS jammers take advantage of GNSS receivers, which use GPS signals (as well as GLONASS, Galileo and other constellations – hence the name “GNSS” – Global Navigation Satellite System), but that are notoriously vulnerable and easily disrupted, whether through intentional jamming — but often even unintentional jamming (as you’ve likely experience when losing cell service when driving through a tunnel through mountains or even sometimes in certain spots in your house).
Acquiring jamming devices is surprising easy and cheap. You don’t need an entire mountain to block a GPS signal — you can find devices that jam GPS for less than $100 online. As long as that jammer is able to emit a signal at the same frequency as your signal, but with a more powerful signal, they’ll win out and jam your drone.
Of course, it’s not that simple. There are all sorts of jamming attacks and signals, including Continuous Wavelength, where a single frequency is jammed and anything transmitted in that same frequency will be blocked. And with another method called narrow band, power is spread and diluted throughout the different frequencies making up a band (a range of around 2MHz). To attack, jammers “barrage” the bad by creating a series of narrow-band signals that transmit shortly one after each other.
Dedrone, which is the company partnering with the FAA, makes its own precision jammer called DedroneDefender that uses narrow-band jamming. Another company, DroneShield sells a Dronegun, which is a jammer that can disrupt a drone’s remote control, forcing it to land or return to its starting point.
InfiniDome outlined other types of jamming attack methods in their whitepaper.
Small, less powerful jammers are usually just about 1W but are the size of a pack of cigarettes. Big-time military jammers would provide about 1 KW of power and be about the size of a truck.
Solutions against drone jamming
So while there are various ways to jam a drone GPS signal, there are also various ways to protect your GPS system. The challenge? These solutions can be expensive, heavy and bulky in order to process all those digital signals.
Solutions include what’s called beam steering, with multiple antennas pointed in a specific direction to manipulate the beam. There’s also something called null-steering, along with other mechanical approaches.
InfiniDome, the author of this whitepaper, uses null-steering technology to create essentially “nulls” in the directions or vectors of the jamming signals’ exact angles of attack. But again, it’s far from as simple as it sounds right there. InfiniDome uses its own, patented algorithms in lieu of working with fixed antenna arrays, which allows antennas to be almost freely deployed on a vehicle. From there, they can autonomously analyze the direction of attack.
If a jamming signal is recognized, infiniDome’s products will sample the Intermediate Frequency (IF), calculate the changes needed and send that information to a proprietary RFIC that can modify the RF signals according to the solution of the calculations.
Among InfiniDome’s most recent products includes the GPSdome2, which protects GNSS systems from jamming — something that has becoming a growing concern for unmanned and manned critical applications. And in fact, the GPSdome2 was a nominee in the 2023 AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards given its significance.
infiniDome’s GPSdome (the older model of the GPSdome2) is capable of attenuating a jammer at a 20dB null depth in a single direction, while its GPSdome2 solution employs 35dB protection against up to three simultaneous directions of attack in each of the 2 protected frequencies.
And the company’s products have been used for serious, real-world applications, including along the Israel-Syria border, where Russian GPS jamming has become a common occurrence. In that specific scenario, a GPS receiver protected by GPSdome was able to distinguish between the real GNSS signals and the more powerful jamming signals, with GPSdome attenuating the jamming signals sufficiently to enable continuous tracking of the real GNSS signals while reporting the attack.
Other players in the market of protecting drones from GPS jamming attacks include Honeywell, which is building a GPS signal protection system for drones (perhaps not coincidendally with support from InfiniDome). The Honeywell-InfiniDome solution is a combination of hardware, software and services that together creates a single navigation platform for handling loss or lack of GPS signals. The Honeywell product is set to be delivered sometime this year.
Other solutions have included flying drones without GPS completely. InfiniDome and HoneyWell have also proposed a system called a Robust Navigation System that would allow drones to fly even in GPS-challenged environments.
Some drone companies are taking on the task of protecting their vehicles from drone jamming themselves. For example, the Autel EVO Max 4T uses advanced flight control modules and algorithms specially designed to counter RFI, EMI, and GPS spoofing. And it’s got a safety feature of a non-GPS return-to-home, so if your drone gets disconnected it can fly back to its takeoff point — even without a GPS connection.
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