Can New ‘Magnetic Shield’ Stop Drone Attacks?
Cusp Technologies, a tech startup based in Dubai, is advertising a “magnetic shield” to defend against drone attacks and promises to display it at the IDEX 2021 defense trade show in Abu Dhabi in February. The new technology is advertised with an image of drones blowing up as they run into an invisible wall; it appears to be based on a new technique which projects magnetic fields. Is this the counter-drone solution that everyone is looking for?
The magnetic beam appears to work by a new physical principle — but little hard information is … [+]
By now, nobody should be underestimating the scale of the problem. The Pentagon released its new Counter Unmanned Systems Strategy last week, noting that readily available drones are creating “hazards to DoD operations in the air, land, and maritime domains” and may be operated by state, non-state and criminal actors. In recent years we have seen numbers of small, low-cost, low-tech drones strike a major oil facility in Abqaiq, Russia’s main air base in Syria, Iraq troops trying to re-take Mosul and many others. The success of Azerbaijan’s drone fleet against Armenia is further boosting export sales, and existing defenses have been of limited use.
In a series of acquisition programs that at times looked like panic buying, the U.S. has acquired what the report euphemistically calls “many non-integrated, redundant solutions” to the drone problem – a wild variety of mismatched counter-drone systems. If you want an anti-aircraft system there are only a handful of suppliers, but when it comes to counter-drone the choice is bewildering – over 575 systems were on the market according to a 2019 study by Bard College. The number has since grown considerably.
It is not just military customers. After London’s Gatwick Airport was closed by disruption due to drone flights over Christmas 2019 (costing some tens of millions of dollars), the operators quickly spent some $7m on a counter drone system to prevent it happening again.
Cusp Technologies enters this lively market with a device which they have been working on for five years; they claim to be working with a U.S. company to extend its range to 100 kilometers.
Forbes reached out Cusp Technologies to find out more about how the magnetic shield works. After some initially positive responses, company founder Mohammed A. Saleh told us that he would not be able to provide any information.
“Things have got a little complicated since we have announced our invention on the news as it turned out the demand for such a product is very high and we have had governments and very high-level people reaching out for us, including competitors who are trying to get more details about the product,” Saleh told Forbes.
Cusp’s website gives a few hints about the new technology:
“It all began when our Founder, Eng. Mohammed A. Saleh, made the impossible and invented the magnetic beam by building an electromagnet that can project a magnetic flux over a distance.
It was a side project, and more of a dream, but with the grace of Allah, he was able to make it happen. His vast knowledge and experience in Architecture combined with his interest in magnets allowed him to achieve his goal of creating a directed-energy technology that has multiple applications in several fields, such as space and military.”
This sounds very much like someone without scientific background tinkering with magnets and making a breakthrough which has eluded the world’s research organizations. It is not impossible, but it certainly requires some evidence – and certainly a demonstration of how it stops drones – before it can be seriously evaluated.
It may be some kind of radio-frequency jammer like the U.S. Marine Corps LMADIS which cuts communications between operator and drone; or it may be a beam of microwave of radio-frequency radiation like Raytheon’s Phaser which burns out electronics. Or it might be something completely new.
“The CUAS [counter unmanned aerial systems] field is seeing a proliferation of drone mitigation technologies now competing with each other. Unfortunately, some of these technologies are being offered up by individuals with little practical field experience and at best represent lab bench models,” says Bunker.
And, in the worst case, a new device simply may not work as claimed.
“This very much reminds me of some of the fake bomb detectors offered during the Iraq conflict such as the ADE 651 and GT200,” says Bunker.
The ADE 651 explosives detectors was at the heart of a notorious case in which a British company sold ‘Advanced Detection Equipment’ comprising a plastic box with a couple of antenna attached. The devices were widely sold at extravagant prices and used in Iraq, Thailand, Pakistan and other areas facing terrorist bombs. Despite fancy packaging and extensive use of technical jargon the devices were useless and in 2010 a British businessman was jailed for ten years for fraud. According to some estimates, hundreds of people may have died because of the fakes – which are still being sold in Iraq, now as Covid-19 detectors.
Many sites, from airports and sports stadia to nuclear power stations are rushing to get counter-drone defenses in place, with the global market worth perhaps $6bn a year by 2024. In this situation you can see why competitors want to copy new technology – and potential customers want to find out more before paying out. Hopefully, all will be revealed at IDEX next month when the magnetic shield goes on show.