Drones in car chases (anatomy of a pursuit in an urban setting)

A discussion about the tactical advantages provided by an airborne drones in car chases compared to landbased operators whether on foot or in a vehicle.

THE ANATOMY OF A DRONE-ENABLED VEHICLE PURSUIT IN AN URBAN SETTING

Increasing urbanization brings various elements of society closer together a trend further exacerbated by contention for resources. Car chases, because of robberies, car-jacking, cash in transit heists (CIT), etc. has become a frequent occurrence, especially in more crime-ridden countries like South Africa. Run by crime syndicates these incidents are executed in military style. 

“CIT (cash-in-transit) robbery networks are highly organised, well-resourced and operate with military precision”

In response to this, security agencies are increasingly looking at how to expand the contents of their toolbox in responding to such fast moving incidents. Drones are proving to be key element of improving Situational Awareness in car chase situations, especially with high value targets such as cash-in transit vehicles.

This does pose the question, with a typical top cruise speed of 60km/h for high-end commercial grade drones: 

Speed of drones in car chase

ARE DRONES FAST ENOUGH TO TRACK A GETAWAY CAR?

TYPICAL CIT (Cash-in-Transit) EXECUTION PATTERN.

“Planning includes checking where the cameras and panic buttons are located, planning getaway routes, the use of an “off-ramp” (described as a getaway vehicle that is parked about 2km from the crime scene waiting for the robbery to be completed), calculating getaway time and the distance from the planned crime scene to the safe house.”

CIT heists often get staged with 1.) one team preparing the scene, 2.) another team conducting the heist and 3.) another team performing the getaway. 

CIT HEIST PHASES

STAGING

Priority: Control the situation.

This stage may include:

    1. Bring the CIT vehicle to a halt.
    2. Overcoming the security guards in the transit vehicle
    3. Clearing out the scene of bystanders or other external elements via a shootout

THE HIT.

Priority: Extracting the cash.

This would include blowing up the van and extracting the cash.

Depending on the level of violence and noise (guns/explosions) of the attack, alarm could be raised quiet early (Phases 1 or 2) already and responses from security forces (which should be close if the heist targets are of a high value and/or risk) could then also be triggered.

The first 2 phases could be anything from a few minutes to a half an hour or more.

THE ESCAPE.

Priority: Depart from the scene of the crime. Get to the “off-ramp”.

This phase would include any required hectic measures to escape before the security forces arrive and would entail the early phases of a dramatic car chase.

THE TRANSITION.

Priority: Obfuscate – fleeing vehicle to delink itself from crime scene via increasing distance and/or transitioning from one vehicle to another at designated points to lose pursuers

Although distance is important, highways tend to be avoided as it makes identification and coordinated tracking by various security forces easier. 

EMBED.

Priority: Hide or disappear. Get to the “safe house”. Often into a dense area where you can lose followers easily. Again top speeds will be limited because of urban density.

 

THE ADVANTAGES OF A DRONE IN THE SKY.

 

THE TRIGONOMETRIC ADVANTAGE

In a typical urban grid road formation setting where roads run parallel and perpendicular to one another, standard trigonometric calculation will prescribe a 42% advantage to the drone traveling as the crow flies (straight) compared to the vehicle which has to traverse the traditionally designed roads. In km/h terms this is the equivalent of traveling at 85km/h compared to the standard 60km/h. 

Drones in car chases straight line advantage

Actual examples.

This theoretical assessment has been borne out by a few actual real-life hotspot urban examples where the ‘crow’ (the drone) had between 25% to 50% advantage on the road user.

 

TRAFFIC AND OBSTACLES

Taking traffic patterns, speed limits, corners and obstacles into consideration, the unencumbered ‘crow’ (drone) has another 60% to 200% advantage on the road constrained traveller. This might not always apply to a getaway vehicle breaking the law, but clearly will have a further constraining effect on the speed of the getaway vehicle. 

 

CAMERA IN THE SKY

Mobile airborne surveillance provides a superior vertical vantage viewing position compared to equal viewing positions of co-present humans or road vehicles. This enables multiple security agency operators to act in concert to close down a fleeing vehicle.

Add to the above an immediate slant range of some HD digital zoom cameras, with target identification and tracking, of up to 2km within 2 minutes after starting the drone take-off procedure, and you have a powerful tool that can extend the range and reach for security agencies conducting coordinated vehicle pursuits in an urban setting.

The following graphic provides a rough comparison of the various advantages of drone enabled car pursuit.

Drones in car chases aerial advantage