The British military reportedly used an Israeli anti-drone system to ground an unmanned aerial vehicle that shuttered the airfield at London’s Gatwick Airport for over 36 hours beginning Thursday, stranding tens of thousands of passengers.
Flights resumed Friday at Gatwick, the United Kingdom’s second busiest airport, while police said they were still hunting for the drone operator or operators and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said “military capabilities” were being deployed to safeguard the airport.
Though Grayling did not give details on what equipment was being deployed, The Daily Mail reported that the British Army used the Israeli-made “Drone Dome” to bring down the UAV after police failed for hours to do so with a commercial anti-drone system.
Six of the systems, which were developed by Israeli defense firm Rafael, were sold to the UK Ministry of Defense in August in an estimated $20 million deal, according to Israel’s Globes financial daily.
According to RADA Electronic Industries, which makes the radars used in the Drone Dome, the system can identify drones from 3-5 kilometers (1.8-3 miles) away using 360-degree detection technology.
The Drone Dome can then use its electro-optical sensors to jam the radio frequencies being used by the drone’s operator to control it, making the UAV inoperable and bringing it down in a so-called “soft-kill.”
The system also has a laser that can melt drones, but the Daily Mail said this technology was not purchased by Britain.
Police officers stand near equipment on the rooftop of a building at London Gatwick Airport, south of London, on December 21, 2018. (Ben Stansall/AFP)
The British military on Thursday joined police and aviation authorities in the search for the culprit or culprits behind the drone intrusion, which police said was designed to cause maximum disruption over the holiday period.
“There are a range of measures which are there today which should give passengers confidence that they are safe to fly,” Grayling, the transportation minister, told the BBC.
Grayling said there had been about 40 sightings of “a small number of drones” while the airport was shut down. He told the BBC the drone disruption at Gatwick was “unprecedented anywhere in the world.”
The last confirmed drone sighting was at 10 p.m. Thursday.
Officials said shooting down a drone remained a “tactical option” but there were concerns that any weapon used to attack the drone could inadvertently hurt people on the ground.
The airport, about 30 miles (45 kilometers) south of central London, sees more than 43 million passengers a year. About 110,000 had been scheduled to pass through on Thursday, one of the busiest days of the year.
The runway closure has had a spillover impact on the international air travel system, and thousands of passengers remain short of their destinations.
An information board shows scheduled flights arrivals cancelled and diverted at London Gatwick Airport, south of London, on December 20, 2018 after all flights were grounded due to drones flying over the airfield. (Glyn Kirk/AFP)
Many holiday plans were disrupted and travelers stuck at Gatwick described freezing conditions as hundreds slept on benches and floors. Many passengers and their families complained they weren’t being kept informed about re-routed flights.
Authorities haven’t released details about the drones being used except to characterize them as meeting “industrial specifications.”
The motive for the drone use isn’t clear. Police say there is no indication it is “terror related.”