The testing and evaluation of military equipment and munitions at Eglin Air Force Base routinely is shrouded in secrecy, but a recent announcement from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has slightly turned back that curtain.
DARPA has posted a YouTube video shot at Eglin of its recent successful completion of tests of a system designed to protect military installations, convoys and other operations from the prying electronic eyes and potentially more serious dangers posed by the proliferation of drones in the aerial landscape.
The next step, according to DARPA — a research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies — is to move the technology developed in the four-year-old Mobile Force Protection (MFP) project into programs for the various military services.
The counter-unmanned air system (UAS) developed by DARPA uses new radar technology to detect UAS (drone) threats and then pairs targets with specific interception equipment. That interception equipment, which can be either small fixed-wing or small rotary-wing (helicopter-like) aircraft, is then launched to employ one of two types of non-explosive countermeasures to bring down problematic drones. The anti-drone system is designed to fit on existing military land or sea vehicles for deployment.
The counter-drone equipment is outfitted with non-explosive countermeasures so that it can be used near military personnel and equipment without posing a danger of injury or damage. Also according to the DARPA announcement, the non-explosive nature of the countermeasures means that the new anti-drone technology can be used in urban or other populated areas without endangering civilians.
DARPA is discussing one of its non-explosive approaches to bringing down drones, noting in its recent announcement that its “primary drone negation mechanism shoots strong, stringy streamers from reusable interceptors that foul propellers, causing loss of propulsion.”
The YouTube video shot recently at Eglin shows the deployment of an interceptor equipped with streamers, which appear to foul the propeller blades of the target drone and send the drone plummeting to the ground.
Regarding other approaches to bring down drones, DARPA would only say that “other non-kinetic techniques were developed” and demonstrated.
The focus of the MFP project to protect mobile military assets had a couple of advantages for broader deployment of the counter-drone system, according to Gregory Avicola, manager of the DARPA counter-drone program.
“Because we were focusing on protecting mobile assets, the program emphasized solutions with a small footprint in terms of size, weight and power,” Avicola said in a DARPA news release on the successful demonstration of the new technologies.
“This also allows for more affordable systems and less operators,” Avicola added.
Drones, particularly smaller ones, have become a significant threat to U.S. military and other assets, DARPA noted in a 2017 announcement of its counter-drone efforts that now are ready to begin moving toward use in the field. At the time, DARPA stated that drones “have numerous advantages such as portability, low cost, commercial availability and easy upgradeability.”
DARPA’s assessment also noted that “the exponential growth of the commercial drone sector (has been) creating new … threats for warfighters.”
“Keeping warfighters safe from small unmanned air systems requires knowing that one or more is coming and removing their potential as a threat while they’re still at a safe distance,” Jean-Charles Ledé, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), said in the early days of the MFP program.
At that time, DARPA was turning to private industry to “stay abreast of the latest technologies that could provide those capabilities, and integrate some of the most promising ones into an eventual MFP technology demonstration system.”
Subsequently, DARPA awarded contracts to Dynetics, a Huntsville, Alabama-based company that works with unmanned aerial systems, and to Saab Defense and Security and SRC Inc., defense contracting companies ln Syracuse, New York, for work on the anti-drone system.
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