ANTI-DRONE technology used to protect Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and thousands of guests and onlookers at last year’s royal wedding is now permanently stationed at Gatwick airport.
And on Wednesday Heathrow was forced to close for an hour after the sighting of another drone caused alarm.
MPs have now announced plans to launch an “in-depth inquiry” into Britain’ preparedness against drone-borne terror attacks.
“We need to know that steps have been taken to prevent a Jihadi drone packed with explosives being flown into the engine inlet of a passenger jet as it is landing or taking off,” said defence select committee chair Dr julian Lewis last night.
AUDS (Anti-UAV Defence System) was designed by Horsham-based Chess Dynamics, which developed the electro-optic tracking technology, Saffron Waldon-based Blighter Surveillance Systems responsible for electronic-scanning radar target detection and Enterprise Control Systems, in Wappenham, which is behind the radio frequency disruption know-how.
Another Israeli-made alternative, called “Drone Dome”and costing twice the price, was also initially deployed but, sources say, withdrawn without being used.
Chess Dynamics’ system has already been used successfully with British troops in Iraq and by Special Forces in Syria, where it downed more than 700 weaponised Islamic State drones since September 2016.
It was also the “solution of choice” on May 19, when it was used by Special Forces to create a “defensive drone shield” around Windsor for the royal wedding.
Its state-of-the-art technology means it takes less than a second to detect an aerial intruder that breaches a pre-stablished virtual cordon up to 4 miles away.
t can “break the umbilical cord” between any drone and its operator, before freezing the system above a previously-defined drop zone where it will fall once its power runs out.
Though it is usually deployed from static positions such as rooftops, it can also be mounted to any vehicle making it fully mobile.
Around 2,500 members of the public lined the streets of Windsor to watch the royal procession containing Prince Harry, Meghan and their military escort, unaware that SAS soldiers were stationed on a nearby rooftop with AUDS.
The system is so quick that it can handle several roles at once.
“Terrorists like to film what they are trying to accomplish for propaganda purposes. In these cases, the system will prioritise the drone carrying an explosive device, for instance, but also disable the camera,” said a source.
In Windsor, several areas of parkland were identified as drop zones, safely away from crowd and the royal couple.
Though airports offer more options for drop zones, the need to allow planes to take off and land means designing a cordon described by Grayling as “more like a Transport for London sign, with bits sticking out either side to provide extra protection for the approach and landing areas, rather than just a circle around the airport.”
A source added: “When AUDS was used in December, it evolved the unpacking of 19 boxes before it was wet up on a roof. Now Gatwick is in the process of fully integrating the system into its network.”
Though he did not name the system, Chris Grayling recently told MPs that “other airports around the world are coming to us asking, ‘What do we need to do?’” and are being allowed to inspect the technology.
However, ultimate responsibility rests with airport owners and, despite Wednesday’s shutdown, Heathrow Airport Holdings has not yet sanctioned the system to be placed on permanent standby.
“HAH is watching events at Gatwick closely,” added another source.
Last night Dr Lewis added: “Once we have received the defence secretary’ initial response we will draw up terms of reference for an in-depth inquiry into our military preparedness in terms of technology and our civil preparedness in terms of deployment.
“We need to know what capability we have to frustrate attacks and how prepared we are in terms of deploying that capability at vulnerable and vital sites.”
A spokesman for Chess Dynamics said: “We are currently working with London Gatwick Airport as part of the anti-drone solution it is deploying. Due to the complexity of the situation and the fact that it is a matter of national security, we are unable to provide further comment at this time.”