Counter-Drone Protection at Ports: A Critical Factor for Fixing the Supply Chain

January 12, 2022 | Eric Danis

America’s stalled supply chain has become a problem and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg offered a partial solution.

The Associated Press notes that next year the amount of money for port improvements will nearly double to $450 million in grants annually for five years under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law.

This is a major step in the right direction, but there should also be crucial consideration regarding an event that could create a big setback for the global supply chain – a rogue drone attack on a large port.

Drones pose a significant threat to the safety and security measures of ports and harbors worldwide and could easily disrupt the global supply chain. These entry and exit points function as arteries for cities and even countries, and may also house hazardous and potentially explosive chemicals and substances (as we saw in the aftermath of the horrific explosion at the port in Beirut).

A drone assault on a port would not be unprecedented – last spring, a drone was utilized in an attack on a petroleum tank farm at Ras Tanura port, located in eastern Saudi Arabia. Ras Tanura is a major oil operations center.

In September, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels used six bomb-carrying drones and three ballistic missiles to damage the Mokha port in Yemen. Only two of the drones were intercepted and destroyed.

Maritime port leaders should consider investing in counter-drone, cyber-takeover programs to protect critical facilities from hostile drone incursions. It is important that security personnel can receive proactive notifications, providing relevant units with real-time information regarding at-risk sites. This early heads-up enables emergency personnel, whether at ports and harbors, or other critical facilities, to respond appropriately.

Counter-drone protection at ports is complicated by the fact that many ports are reliant on authorized drones. “Security and surveillance are among top uses, but ports are deploying unmanned aerial systems for a raft of applications ranging from surveying construction sites to filming videos to boost community relations,” according to AAPA Seaports Media.

Port drones are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Percepto, an autonomous inspection and monitoring solution provider, claims to offer autonomous port drones that conduct 24/7 security patrols of coastal and sea lines, routine inspection of the terminal’s vicinity and continuous monitoring of container lots.

Keeping the U.S. and global supply chains running smoothly will require port security teams that are able to control and take over rogue drones, while simultaneously enabling authorized drones to complete their critical functions.

Protecting ports from unauthorized drones is a formidable challenge, but one that is crucial for the supply chain. Grants and funding should be procured specifically for this purpose.

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