Articles

The Pentagon wants an 'aerial dragnet' to find enemy drones on the battlefield and in US cities


DARPA

The Pentagon's research and development outfit wants to stop "UAS-enabled terrorist threats" with a new system it's calling Aerial Dragnet that would track slow, low-flying drones — or what the military calls unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

"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 soliciting proposals for the program, which seeks to provide "persistent, wide-area surveillance" of multiple drones on a city-wide scale.

Drones have become a mainstay on the battlefield — especially where the US is involved — but many other countries have, or are producing, drones for use in combat. Then there are the smaller, off-the-shelf types, which have even been used for surveillance purposes and to deliver explosive devices by terrorist groups like ISIS, for example.

The proliferation of drones is going to continue, so it looks like DARPA wants a sort-of "super drone" that will tell US forces where all the other little ones are on the battlefield. That is a ways off, since the the Aerial Dragnet research program will take more than three years, after which it's up to the Pentagon on whether any of the research is implemented in the field.

"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," Jeff Krolik, DARPA program manager, said in a statement. "We want a similar capability for identifying and tracking slower, low-flying unmanned aerial systems, particularly in urban environments."

Krolik also works on another DARPA program called "upward falling payloads" — a way of parking drones in sealed cases on ocean floors around the world, where they can be remotely activated to "fall" up and take a look around should trouble occur.

DARPA said the program is mainly designed to protect deployed troops, but the system "could ultimately find civilian application to help protect US metropolitan areas."

The agency is hosting a proposers day on September 26, and full proposals for those interested in getting the contract are required by November 12.

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