France Seeks Drone Interception System

elyseesA French national security and defence agency under the prime minister closed the books on a call for bids to fund a drone interception system. It hopes to have at least some drone defences operational in the next 18 months.

“We have made a proposal to the scientific community to see what best emerges,” said Karine Delmouly, a project manager at the National Research Agency, or ANR, which is vetting the proposals. She declined to discuss specifics or say how many companies made bids.

France wants to monitor and detect intruding drones and their remote-control pilots; analyze and track their flight paths; and ultimately neutralize the drones – either temporarily or permanently – with the least collateral damage possible, the ANR said in its call for bids.

As for the options, the sky may be the limit. Anti-drone devices could include pinpoint radar systems to track drones the size of a breadbasket or even smaller (and distinguish them from birds), high-tech lasers to destroy the unwanted intruders or telecommunications-scrambling systems to block the remote controls that direct them.

Interception drones could be sent up into the sky to fight back and low-tech solutions such as sky-high netting or fences could also work, officials say.

Last year in France, authorities faced a series of illegal small drone flights above atomic power plants and the military port of Toulon on the Mediterranean Sea. Last month one was spotted above the Elysee presidential palace in Paris.

The Secretariat, which oversees the country’s security systems including cybersecurity, put 1 million euros ($1.1 million) on the table to get a system that will keep drones far from atomic plants, President Francois Hollande’s office and even landmarks like the Eiffel Tower.

While it would be too costly to create a radar system to detect drones across the country, the French government is studying where and how to install scramblers and low altitude radars.

Some “Vital Service Operators” — a classified list of about 200 companies key to run France’s transport, energy or health care — may be among those that will use the systems the Secretariat wants up and running within 18 months.

For now, French skies are vulnerable to small drones because French military radar systems aren’t adapted to detect those flying at low altitudes, General Mercier said.

On dronestagram.com, an image-sharing website of footage gathered by amateur drone operators, a user called “toniorapido” posted a 9-minute video of a fly-over the business district of La Defense last July.

In the video, a drone flies nearby the headquarters of nuclear energy operator Areva, oil giant Total, and the country’s nuclear power plants operator Electricite de France. The drone also flew under the Arche de la Defense, a landmark of the country and above the nearby mall. La Defense has been a no-fly zone since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“We must keep calm. Most drones are harmless,” said Francis Durufle, vice president the Civilian Drones Federation. “But we have to be vigilant. It’s like cars had appeared overnight and you had to understand the scope of changes and dangers instantly, from privacy to spying or attacks or one falling on your head.”

The Defense Ministry declined to give details on the sort of drones spotted above its nuclear submarine base in Brittany. Authorities said they didn’t capture the crafts.

The Elysee palace also declined to give more details about the drone spotted above its courtyard.

“We take this very seriously,” Gaspard Gantzer, a spokesman for Hollande, told Bloomberg News. “But we have to take it with sang froid.”


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