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DARPA wants the ultimate technology, sensor network to monitor the vast Arctic

Mar 20, 20124 mins

DARPA says retreating Arctic ice will ultimately make the Artic a more strategic region

NASA picture of artic ice
Talk about an ambitious project. The scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said today they want to develop a massive system of sensors and unmanned systems that can monitor and track the remote environment of the Arctic.

DARPA acknowledged the immensity of the Assured Artic Awareness project saying the Arctic is physically vast, with transpolar distances of over two thousand nautical miles, and typical travel distances from the US of over one thousand miles.  However with retreating Arctic ice in the coming decades, shipping is expected to increase during the summer months as will effort to exploit natural resources along the resource rich continental shelf. This growth in activity will increase the strategic significance of the region and will drive a need to ensure stability through effective regional monitoring, the agency stated.

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From DARPA: “Remote distributed sensing is a way to provide stand-off situation awareness in the Arctic, and is an emphasis for the Assured Artic program. Distributed and unmanned systems offer the advantage of extensive footprints as well as proximity, without the potential system costs of large manned platforms and bases. As with the development of any remote distributed system, developers will need to overcome the technical challenges of persistence, survivability, energy management, sensing, mobility, delivery, and communications.

Such endeavors are further challenged by the extreme meteorological and environmental conditions of the Arctic. For example: polar ice isolates underwater activities from overhead assets; extensive darkness and cloud cover limit electro-optical imaging; instability in the ionosphere disrupts radiofrequency propagation; geosynchronous satellites access can fail at latitudes above 70 degrees N; and temperatures can fall below -65 degrees C affecting hardware designs.”

The agency depicted two central areas of technology it wants to develop:

Under-ice awareness: “Proposed solutions in this area should leverage unique Arctic properties (like under-ice acoustic propagation, noise, and non-acoustic properties) to enable distributed unmanned autonomous systems to find and hold targets underwater. Primary interest lies in anti-submarine warfare, however innovative approaches for the detection of structures, bathymetry [study of underwater depths], and other measurements where compelling cases are made for their strategic value will be considered.”

Surface awareness: “Proposed technologies in this area will leverage unique Arctic properties (such as electromagnetic and optical phenomena, ice distributions within a coverage area, the narrow passageways for shipping traffic, and other unique attributes) to let distributed unmanned autonomous systems find and hold surface contacts in the marginal ice zone and summer ice-free waters. Primary interest lies in surface ship and ice tracking, however, this technical area will include innovative approaches for enabling technologies such as networking, data exfiltration, the detection of other activity and conditions of concern where compelling cases are made for their strategic value.”

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DARPA said that the program seeks to develop alternative technology that “creatively turns the perceived environmental challenges of the Arctic into exploitable opportunities.”

DARPA said the program will initially offer multiple contracts worth a total of up to $4 million.

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