Drone over sunset

Meet the Net Firing Drones That Will Protect Football Stadiums in the World Cup

Drone over sunsetThis year, there are lots of strange things happening around the World Cup. For starters, we should all have been watching it this summer, yet it won’t be taking place until the winter months roll around. The reason behind that is the fact that Qatar won the right to hold the 2022 World Cup and so it was moved to winter in order to ensure that the temperatures were at least a couple of degrees cooler. There are all sorts of things to talk about when it comes to Qatar being awarded the biggest international football tournament, but they are perhaps for another time.

Here we’re looking to talk about the safety of football supporters and players, particularly with reference to the threat that they might face from the air. The development of drones is such that any Tom, Dick or Harriet could buy one and use it however they so wish. The result of that is a move by a company called Fortem to create ways of protecting the World Cup’s football stadiums from the potential threat of drones. This is achieved by launching a net at the drone that shouldn’t be there, after which they can either drag it to a safe location or ensure it is forced to the ground.

Fortem Technologies

Fortem Technologies logo The company behind the drones that will patrol the skies above World Cup stadiums this winter is Fortem Technologies. Describing itself as the ‘leader in airspace awareness, security and defence’, it states that its aim is to ‘detect and defeat dangerous drones’. The company has worked with the United States of America’s Department of Defence for years, allowing it to develop and test the systems that it users. Based in the state of Utah, it is backed by the likes of Boeing, Toshiba and others, earning a reputation as one of the leading lights in air defence.

The solutions offered by Fortem Technologies have been put in place already at locations, such as prisons, airports and areas where law enforcement require them. The reason the company has grown over the years is that there has been a large number of non-commercial drones and other flying vehicles offered to the general public. These, of course, can be converted to become something that they weren’t intended for, should people know what they’re doing. This increased threat has been seen as something that needs to be dealt with by the powers that be, hence the increased use of companies like Fortem.

Drone Hunters

Drone Hunter screenshot

The key development by Fortem Technologies has come in the form of what the company calls their ‘Drone Hunters’. The DroneHunter® F700 is what is referred to as a ‘counter-unmanned aerial vehicle’, meaning that it has the ability to bring done other drones or flying vehicles that might pose a threat to others. The company reached an agreement with the Qatari Interior Ministry to provide the interceptor drones for use during the 2022 World Cup, which is being hosted by the country. The agreement was reached, it claimed, as it reflect the ‘growing fears about the threat potential drone attacks pose in general’.

The Technology Behind the Drone Hunters

Fortem Technologies has created a system that offers a safe way bring down drones that allows for the reduction of risk of injury in the event that weapons are installed on a drone. The Drone Hunters use an autonomous, radar-guided system that allows them to fire nets at small consumer drones in order to ensnare them and carry them to a safer location. In the event that the target drone is bigger, a net can be launched at them that is connected to a parachute, allowing it to entangle the target slowly before forcing it to the floor.

Timothy Bean, the Chief Executive Officer of Fortem Technologies, spoke to the BBC about the system and said that it works by distributing a series of small radars around the location that is being protected. These radars create a ‘complete picture’ of what is happening in the airspace immediately above the venue in question. The drones do their work ‘a mile or so away’ from the area that they’re protecting, meaning that they should be relatively unobtrusive. That is obviously ideal for football matches, where neither the players nor the fans should be distracted by anything other than what’s happening on the pitch.

Bringing Down Illegal Drones with Nets

The F700 uses its NetGuns™ to ‘trap the offending drone’ in a net that is tethered to it. This allows it to carry it a safe location. In the instance that a lager drone is used, a so-called ‘drogue net’ will fire a net that is connected to a parachute. This will force the attacking drone into a more predictable landing, with the slow nature of the fall allowing time to evacuate the target area. This is useful for both the faster fixed-wing drones as well as quad-copters, which is why it is such a popular system to use when looking to defend larger areas, such as a football stadium.

The other reason why the F700 has become the go-to defensive vehicle for many is that it has been engineered from the ground up. Whereas other drones are based on already commercially available airframes, the Drone Hunter is unique. It can ‘chase down and subdue’ a wide-range of other aircraft, whilst the fact that it works in tandem with the company’s ‘TrueView® R20’ radar ensures that it is extremely specially aware. In other words, the F700 is, at the time of writing, the best defence against air attacks from drones that terrorists are likely to be able to buy.

Better Than Other Defensive Methods

Drone at airport

Using drones that can capture or being down threatening unmanned aerial vehicles is, in many ways, the best of some not particularly good options. One alternative, for example, is to use a system that will interfere with the signal that controls a drone, but that is imperfect. A terrorist could use a drone that has been given a pre-programmed flight path, meaning that interfering with its controls wouldn’t make any difference to it reaching its destination. As Bean said, ‘terrorists don’t use joysticks’. If a drone has been pre-programmed, it ‘can’t be jammed’.

Fortem Technologies has already employed the Drone Hunters at other sporting events, as well as during the World Economic Forum when it met at Davos. As well as working with British airports to develop a system that can stop drones interfering with flights taking off an landing, the company has donated portable versions of the system that it has created to help Ukraine in the country’s fight against Russia. The system is believed to be the best option for defending targets from attack, which is why the Qatari Safety and Security Operations Committee has called upon it for the World Cup when it takes place in November and December.

Will Football Matches Be a Likely Target?

Stade de FranceStade de France (Darthvadrouw / Wikipedia.org)

On first glance, you would be forgiven for wondering whether this is scaremongering, to some degree. After all, millions of football matches take place around the world every weekend without being targeted by terrorists. Yet one only needs to look back on the attack at the Stade de France in 2015 to see evidence of a moment when terrorists realised that football matches offer them a convenient target that would be watched by millions of people. A suicide bomber had attempted to enter the State de France in the suburb of Saint-Denis, but was foiled by a security check.

Stade de France: 2015

At the time, a friendly between Germany and France was being watched by around 80,000 people, who were suddenly aware of a large explosion when the terrorist was discovered and chose to set off the bomb. Initially, the match carried on, when five minutes later other attacks were carried out throughout Paris. At 9.30pm, ten minutes after the initial explosion, a second terrorist set off a bomb at another security entrance. Once more, the game continued, although the French President was evacuated, in order to stop a mass panic from developing.

Thankfully, the security system put in place stopped a major disaster from unfurling at the Stade de France. Imagine, though, if the terrorists had not had to go through any security barriers in order to set off their bombs? It is this scenario, that football match organisers fear the most and it is why the Fortem Technologies Drone Hunters have become so popular. The development of commercial drones into weapons during the conflict in Ukraine as well as in Yemen has merely served to heighten this sense of fear, which is why an increased ability to respond to such threats is important.

An Arms Race Might Be Inevitable

Sadly, terrorists don’t rest on their laurels. When those that are keen to defend themselves from terrorist attacks find ways of doing so, those that wish to carry them out find new ways of doing so. Dr Steve Wright at the University of the West of England believes that attack drones are likely to increase in speed, making them harder to stop. He is working on a system similar to that employed by Fortem Technologies for a European company and said that they’re trying to get their drones to fly at 200 miles-per-hour, perhaps even increasing to 300mph in the future.

If they can make their drones go faster, so could the terrorists, with other methods also employable by those that wish to do harm. Swarms of multiple drones attacking at the same time would cause such a system as that used by Fortem Technologies a problem, for example. This doesn’t mean that there’s no point having a defensive system in place, given that the harder it is for an attack the less likely it is that one will take place, but it does indicate the likelihood of the war on terror taking to the sky and developing into an arms race in the coming years.

It Isn’t Fool-Proof

Drone flying in the air

On its own website, Fortem Technologies says that the system works around 85% of the time. This means that attack drones can escape the defensive system at least some of the time. Of course, just because an attack vehicle has been able to avoid the first shot doesn’t mean that it won’t be brought down by the second one. Even so, terrorists are, by their very nature, people that look to instil ‘terror’ in their victims. The result of this is that they won’t mind if they are foiled in an attempted attack, considering the fact that they will have put fear into their attempted victims.

That being said, it goes without saying that stopping a group from killing hundreds or even thousands of people has to be seen as a win. For this reason, the Drone Hunters and the likes that are going to be employed in Qatar will be seen as having won if they can deter any sort of terrorist attack during the World Cup. Those that look to instil terror in others want to do as much damage as they can, which the Drone Hunters should theoretically stop them from doing. The proof, however, is in the eating, which is why many will be looking to the skies during the 2022 World Cup.

Author: Neil Garza