Small, low flying drones the target of newfangled DARPA defense system

DARPA system could ID, track low flying unmanned systems


DARPA: An artist’s concept shows elements of a notional Aerial Dragnet system: Several UAS carrying sensors form a network that provides wide-area surveillance of all low-flying UAS in an urban setting.

Credit: DARPA

Drones flying at or below 1,000ft are the targets of a proposed surveillance system from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DARPA said it envisions its Aerial Dragnet program will develop technologies to deliver persistent, wide-area surveillance of all low flying unmanned aircraft via a network of surveillance nodes. These nodes would offer coverage, say of a neighborhood-sized urban area, perhaps mounted on long-endurance unmanned aircraft.

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“Using sensor technologies that can look over and between buildings, the surveillance nodes would maintain UAS tracks even when the craft disappear from sight around corners or behind objects. The output of the Aerial Dragnet system would be a continually updated common operational picture of the airspace at altitudes below where current aircraft surveillance systems can monitor, disseminated electronically to authorized users via secure data links,” DARPA stated.

The challenges presented by small drones are many. For example, most fly a low altitudes – less that 400ft which makes them hard to spot; they fly at slow speeds less than 90MPS and usually weigh less than 55lbs making them difficult to sense, DARPA stated. The rapid proliferation of commercial UAS with increasing endurance and payload capacity drives the need for a future urban aerial surveillance system that can detect, track, and classify many different UAS types at longer ranges in urban terrain, the agency stated.

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

While Aerial Dragnet systems would work with our military operating in urban settings such a system could have a civilian application to help protect U.S. metropolitan areas from drone-based terrorist threats, DARPA stated.

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“Although several systems are being developed for tracking small UAS by extending surveillance methods used in open areas where large line-of-sight buffers mitigate the threat, these systems are impractical for operation in urban terrain. Aerial Dragnet seeks to leapfrog these approaches by developing systems adapted to the fundamental physics of small UAS in urban environments that could enable non-line-of-sight (NLOS) tracking and identification of a wide range of slow, low-flying threats,” DARPA stated.

For more information about the Aerial Dragnet program go here.

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