UNODC explains the combined use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Ground Surveillance Systems

Drones have been shown to be a universal tool for facilitating law enforcement tasks in recent years. Law enforcement agencies have benefited from the intelligence given by drones in anti-drug trafficking, anti-illegal border trespassing, and anti-illegal drug crop harvesting activities; seeking out the main cultivation centers and locating wild fields of illicit drug crops; communicating this intelligence more rapidly to government forces. Surveillance and intelligence missions, as well as emergency response activities, have all been part of this.

Various technologies compatible with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) supply law enforcement agencies with instant intelligence through ongoing monitoring, mapping, imaging and video feed using thermal, video, photo cameras and multispectral cameras with high-resolution 360-degree day and night observation capabilities on board, as well as software solutions to analyze the data. For these purposes, micro (up to 5 kg) and mini (up to 10 kg) UAVs, either fixed-wing or rotary-wing, have recently been utilized.

Programme Brief

To enhance law enforcement capabilities while using UAVs for drug countering, the UNODC Program Office in the Kyrgyz Republic, together with the Counter Narcotics Service of the Ministry of Interior of the Kyrgyz Republic, conducted combined tactical and special anti-drug exercises and proved the efficiency of using UAVs with other ground surveillance systems and technologies, such as Unattended Ground Sensor (UGS) systems. The exercises were part of Sub-Programme 1, “Preventing and Countering Transnational Organised Crime activities,” which in turn is an integral part of the UNODC Regional Programme for Central Asia 2022-2025. Unattended ground sensor (UGS) systems were chosen to be tested co-jointly with drones due to the covert nature of intelligence-gathering activities.

Why UGS?

The UGS system is made up of a network of small ground sensors that operate on various physical principles. Basically, the UGS system comprise seismic, infrared, and microwave sensors, as well as unattended thermal, video, and photo cameras for visual verification.

To convey alarm and service information to the command center or the operator in the field, all sensors self-organize into a wireless ad-hoc radio network. The system components are lightweight, run on external batteries with a long mission life, and can be properly hidden on site. The alarm and service information are displayed on a map in a special system management and administration software.

Not only have the UGS system a wide range of applications in homeland, industrial and private security, but also in combating the distribution of illicit drugs in urban areas. This system has also been used to verify and combat the fact of distribution of illicit drugs by street-level dealers to their regular customers.


The UAV takes off to map the surrounding area to seek grounds, similar to a typical wild drug crop field. The area is mapped through video and thermal cameras mounted onboard to provide video feed and imaging day and night.

A command center is set up several miles away from the area of interest to monitor the situation through UAV flight control and management systems as well as the UGS system administration and management software installed on a rugged laptop. The emergency response unit is quartered nearby.

Personnel deploy several seismic sensors underground on the approach routes to the field. The operator records the sensor’s GPS coordinates on a portable receiver. The circular detection zone of seismic sensors reaches up to 300 m in diameter, so that sensors capture seismic signatures of intruders within their detection zone, classify the intrusion (a human or a vehicle) and then send alarms to the command center (Scenario 1).

The system can be supplemented by unattended video, photo, or thermal cameras to capture video feed or imaging day and night. Cameras start imaging when one of the seismic sensors is triggered by an intruder.

When a motorized or biped intruder reaches the area of interest through one of the approach paths, his motion signature in the detection zone triggers one of the deployed seismic sensors, and then an alarm is sent to the command center. The sensor can also trigger an unattended TV camera for quick visual verification. The service and alarm information are displayed on a map in real-time through UGS system management and administration software (Scenario 2).

To supply law enforcement agencies with instant intelligence, the sensor’s GPS coordinates are used to develop a drone route plan on a map and launch the drone when the seismic sensor is triggered.

The UAV takes off manually and flies to the point. The operator receives an ongoing video feed on the display of the UAV’s receiver or a laptop to verify the intruders. When the UAV is out of its communication range, video is stored in its internal memory. After the intrusion was verified, the emergency response unit is ready to address the possible threat to apprehend criminals and combat organized illicit drug cultivation or harvesting.

Unattended ground sensor systems were considered to be an effective solution for aiding UAVs in various law enforcement activities including countering illicit drug trafficking, distribution and cultivation.

UNODC, with financial support from the Russian Federation, promotes innovative approaches to countering illicit drug trafficking in Kyrgyzstan within the project "Enhancing the capacity of the Mobile Operational Teams of the Counter Narcotics Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic."



For more information contact Vasilina Brazhko

UNODC Communications and PR specialist

At +996775987817 or by

e-mail: vasilina.brazhko{at}