China recently unveiled a drone carrier mothership that could reportedly tip the military balance in the Asia Pacific region (APAC). Beijing has put into service a catamaran mini carrier as part of an experimental naval training force. Among other things, the warship can launch drone swarms against shore targets or air defences.

Yet while this development made headlines around the world, there are more disconcerting trends in the deployment of unauthorised drones across APAC that have received scant media coverage.

C-UAS spending spree across Asia Pacific

A series of blockbuster C-UAS deals by the governments in Taiwan, South Korea, and India, as well as several Southern Asian countries, imply that the proliferation of affordable and readily available small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is a serious challenge for military and homeland security organisations operating in the APAC region.

There are increasing incidences of close encounters with commercial aircraft occurring in the Asia Pacific region today. Cases of near misses between manned and unmanned aircraft have become frequent, resulting in catastrophic accidents. And since these low and slow-flying devices are difficult to detect by conventional air surveillance systems, the regional interest in purchasing C-UAS technology is soaring.

Violent non-state actors undermining regional security

Another factor in the push for faster adoption of counter-drones is the looming drone threat presented by extremist groups and non-state combatants. Indian security forces in western regions bordering Pakistan reported about 250 drone sightings from 2019 to 2020, with the UAVs used to deliver weapons to terrorists, smuggle drugs and conduct surveillance.

Terrorism in Central Asia is a cross-border phenomenon. The source of most terrorists and terrorist organizations that operate in Central Asia is Afghanistan, due to the presence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, as well as Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley.

These non-state actors use drones to target installations that are typically located in remote areas, such as oil fields. In Asia, such highly vulnerable critical infrastructures are proliferating. The region has the most future petroleum refineries, with eighty-eight new facilities planned or under construction across APAC.

Meanwhile, research by PAKAR, an Indonesia-based NGO that studies terrorism, suggests that an Indonesian cell that supports the Islamic State (IS) has set its sights on conducting attacks – using weaponised drones in Jakarta to target police officers and other government officials.

The terrorism threat in Southeast Asia is increasing because of links between local extremists and terrorist groups such as ISIL. The situation in the southern Philippines is of pressing concern, with the pro-IS Maute Group known to have used drones.

Securing APAC’s skies

Growing concerns over public safety is fueling a demand for counter-drone technology for security purposes by end users such as defence and military forces.

In response, companies such as Skylock have developed an array of anti-drone technology systems that provide early detection, long-range protection, and neutralisation of hostile drones. Skylock is one of few in the industry to offer technology allowing anti-drone operatives to detect up to 200 and destroy unlimited drones simultaneously, and has successfully installed systems in the Asia Pacific to protect strategic facilities.

The rise of anti-drone technology in the Asia Pacific region

There is a growing awareness in the Asia Pacific region that airports, historical monuments, critical infrastructures, and borders need to be safeguarded from unsanctioned drones.

The use of counter-drone technology in the Asia Pacific region is expected to increase significantly. APAC’s anti-drone market is expected to reach $2,105.0 million by 2025, demonstrating a CAGR of 47.8% during the forecast period.

And even though product adoption is at a nascent stage in countries such as Japan and India, improvements in detection efficiency and interdiction range in RF jamming/spoofing, as well as laser methods, are expected to accelerate demand for C-UAS solutions across APAC.