DARPA explores counterdrone technology

(Courtesy of DARPA)

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The Pentagon’s research arm wants ideas on how to protect ground and naval forces from small drone threats.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking at exploring or developing solutions “including sensors and effectors, to enable detection, identification, tracking, and neutralization” of threats from small unmanned aircraft systems, the agency said in a request for information published Thursday.

Fast-moving growth of the commercial drone sector is creating “new asymmetric threats for warfighters,” DARPA’s press release on the RFI notes.

“The proliferation of UAS has been extraordinary in the last few years,” said Dan Stamm, counter-UAS program manager for Battelle.

Battelle plans to respond to the RFI and has been working on counterdrone technology for about two years.

“There is a big need already,” Stamm said of counterdrone solutions. “And with the sales of UAS anticipated to continue to go up, [a] multi-billion dollar industry continuing to rise, I anticipate that this need will continue to expand.”

Small commercial drone use is indeed expanding, and the Obama administration has also recently attempted to wrangle its arms around that expansion.

The Federal Aviation Administration published this summer its first rules on small commercial drones, which will go into effect Aug. 29. And last week the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a series of initiatives across several agencies in government and with private partners to expand drone use.

[Read more: Obama administration driving full speed ahead on drones]

“The FAA’s ruling likely — in my opinion — likely won’t be a significant impact on DARPA’s perceived need,” Stamm noted. “In my opinion DARPA is appropriately looking at some of the more nefarious threats and responding to those types of challenges.”

Of the four main focuses in DARPA’s counterdrone efforts, Battelle has been developing the “neutralization” piece by creating a product — called the DroneDefender — that can disrupt a drone’s command and control signal, Stamm said. So far the company has sold 100 systems between the departments of Homeland Security and Defense.

The system disrupts Federal Communications Commission-regulated communication frequency bands, Stamm noted, so it can only be purchased and used by authorized U.S. federal organizations. Battelle eventually also plans to sell the system abroad to allies, but the system is controlled under International Traffic in Arms Regulations, so they will have to secure export licenses to do so.

The RFI asks for responses to address some or all of these issues:
• Conceptual design and capabilities;
• Technology maturity;
• Outline for maturing the system;
• Affordability assessment;
• Size weight and power requirements;
• Ability to address other threats; and
• Ability to integrate third party subsystems.

“System flexibility, deployability, and affordability will be major design drivers, as the system will only be an effective deterrent and defensive capability if it can be widely deployed to protect a large number of assets,” according to the solicitation.

Some RFI submitters may be invited to a Mobile Force Protection workshop to be scheduled in late September, the release says.

“In addition, the information may potentially support the development of new DARPA programs that could enable a revolutionary layered defense approach to achieving mobile force protection, including counter-unmanned air systems capabilities,” according to the release.

The RFI notes that the Tactical Technology Office in DARPA is looking for this information “solely for information and planning purposes.”

“DARPA is interested in identifying novel, flexible, and mobile layered defense systems and component technologies to address this increasingly important issue as well as conventional threats,” Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager, said in a news release. “We’re looking for scalable, modular, and affordable approaches that could be fielded within the next three to four years and could rapidly evolve with threat and tactical advancements.”

Responses to the RFI are due by Aug. 26.

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Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense (DOD), Departments, drones, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), small commercial drones
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