Northern Ireland expert Ryan McCready is countering growing drone threat

An expert in counter-drone technology from Northern Ireland has found his services in high demand following a recent spate of drone-related disruption at airports.

There have been delays at Belfast International, Heathrow and perhaps most notably at Gatwick in recent weeks.

The News Letter caught up with one of the world’s leading experts – military veteran Ryan McCready, from Co Londonderry – to shed some light on the growing threat posed by flying drones.

A Royal Irish Regiment veteran, he was described as the “leading light” behind the development of counter-drone procedures in Afghanistan by four-star US General John Nicholson in 2017 as he was awarded Nato’s highest accolade – a meritorious service medal – for his efforts.

It wasn’t the first time his endeavours have been honoured.

In 2011, at the age of 26, he was presented with an award naming him the UK’s ‘most outstanding soldier’ by Prince William at the Imperial War Museum in London.

His military career has taken him to some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones – including Afghanistan, Ukraine and Iraq.

“I left school at 16 and joined the Army, I’ve been on different continents, I’ve had a great career in the military and now I’m an entrepreneur, so I’ve done alright,” he joked.

Upon his return home, with the praise from General Nicholson ringing in his ears, Mr McCready decided the time was right to put his knowledge to good use in the business world.

He is the chief executive and co-founder of a company known as Hex Horus, who have clients in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

He is also director of Europe for an organisation based in the United States – known as the counter UAS coalition.

Explaining how he developed his expertise, Mr McCready said: “One of my employments in the military – becausee I’ve had different jobs over the years – was as a forward air controller, or what multinational forces refer to as a joint terminal attack controller – a JTAC.

“That’s where I first started to learn about unmanned aerial systems, commonly referred to as drones. In the military they’re referred to as UAV or UAS. I did extensive work, particularly in Helmand Province, using reaper drones or predator drones – piloted and controlled from America, while I was on the ground co-ordinating.”

He continued: “It’s given me an insight into how a terrorist or criminal might use a certain type of drone with certain characteristics – things like where you can launch the drone, how far away you need to be to control the drone, angles of approach, elevation and other things that can help us counter the drone.

“There are different tiers when it comes to the threat posed by UAS, from state-backed actors, through to terrorists and criminals, right down to people who might disrespect aviation guidelines.

“The counter to each of those potential threats varies – and no one approach is foolproof, so we usually recommend a multi-layered approach.”

There are a multitude of ways to bring an offending drone out of the sky, running from ultra-high-tech measures through to crude but effective approaches.

Mr McCready explained: “Radio frequencies – including GPS – can be an option for both detection and disruption.

“Spoofing or protocol manipulation is a cyber option to hijack the drone’s communications link and/or locate the operator.

“Projectiles, including the use of both regular and custom ammunition, is a method of disruption. The use of nets is possible, and there are options with the use of highly trained birds of prey.”

He added: “The first thing we do is conduct a site vulnerability and threat evaluation prior to designing a bespoke counter UAS package, supplemented with a modular training package. The final piece is operational support.”