DARPA wants an ‘Aerial Dragnet’ to find enemy drones on the battlefield and over urban environments
Small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) such as commercial quadcopters or hobbyist drones have no comprehensive tracking system as in case of a well-established air traffic control system that tracks, guides and constantly keeps a watch on thousands of passenger airplanes every day. For that matter, even helicopters report their flights to air traffic control. Even if they didn’t report, the vehicles are large and show up easily on radar, making it possible to keep an eye on them over land.
However, that is not possible in the case of drones, especially commercial or hobbyist drones, as they are small enough to appear like birds on radar. These have already led to invasions of privacy, near tragedies and have been giving pilots increasing anxiety as many are sighted near airports. The U.S. military recognizes the potential security threat these tiny aircraft pose.
In order to stay abreast of what drones are where, the Pentagon’s research and development outfit has come up with a new system called “Aerial Dragnet” that would track slow, low-flying drones or UAS flying below 1,000 ft (300 m) in urban settings.
“As off-the-shelf UAS become less expensive, easier to fly, and more adaptable for terrorist or military purposes, U.S. forces will increasingly be challenged by the need to quickly detect and identify such craft,” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said in a news release. “Especially in urban areas, where sight lines are limited and many objects may be moving at similar speeds.”
DARPA is reaching out to the private sector for the development of a “wide-area surveillance of small unmanned aerial systems in urban terrain on a city-wide scale” to solve the problem.
“Proposals are solicited for a scalable network of sensors on aerial platforms performing threat-agnostic UAS detection, classification, and tracking by looking over and into complex terrain.”
DARPA imagines “a network of surveillance nodes, each providing coverage of a neighbourhood-sized urban area, perhaps mounted on tethered or long-endurance” on other unmanned aerial systems to track the drones over a city.
DARPA says that the project will concentrate on the use of low-cost UAVs and sensor technology combined with off-the-shelf software-defined signal processing to develop a system that is not only inexpensive, but scalable and easily upgraded as technology advances.
“Commercial websites currently exist that display in real time the tracks of relatively high and fast aircraft — from small general aviation planes to large airliners — all overlaid on geographical maps as they fly around the country and the world,” says Jeff Krolik, DARPA program manager. “We want a similar capability for identifying and tracking slower, low-flying unmanned aerial systems, particularly in urban environments.”
DARPA is looking for teams with expertise in signal processing, sensors, and networked autonomy and has issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) describing requirements and how to register for a Proposers Day to be held on September 26 in Arlington, Virginia. For those interested, full proposals in getting the contract are required by November 12.