DARPA Launches Development Of Plug-And-Play Counter-Drone System

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has hired three firms to find ways of defeating the small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) that have become one of the most pervasive threats to the military at home and abroad.

Three teams – Dynetics Inc., Saab Defense and Security USA and nonprofit development firm SRC Inc. - were recently awarded contracts for Phase 1 of the Mobile Force Protection (MFP) program, which focuses on the challenges sUAS pose to ground and maritime forces.

Within three or four years, DARPA hopes to demonstrate and field an open-architecture suite of technologies that detect, track, identify and destroy or disable threat UAS. Much like the Army’s integrated air and missile defense battle command system, the MFP system will be designed with standard software interfaces to allow plug-and-play compatibility with new sensor, processing and countermeasure technologies as they emerge.

Photo illustration of DARPA's Mobile Force Protection counter-drone system.

Photo illustration of DARPA's Mobile Force Protection counter-drone system.

An array is technologies are needed to detect, identify, track and neutralize enemy unmanned aircraft, DARPA says. MFP, launched after DARPA issued a request for information last year, aims to achieve these goals by developing scalable, modular, and affordable approaches that could be deployed within the next three to four years and nimbly evolve with advances in threats, tactics, and technology.

“The three teams we’ve assembled have innovative ideas for a versatile, layered defense system that could protect convoys on the move from multiple small unmanned aircraft systems in real time,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Each team will now work to integrate novel ideas for advanced sensors and neutralization approaches into a common framework emphasizing safety for civilian bystanders, ease of operation, and low size, weight, power, and cost. Our goal is a technology demonstration system that could fit onto currently deployed tactical ground vehicles and maritime vessels—getting advanced and upgradeable capabilities quickly to the warfighters who need them.”

Because interoperability among the various technologies is essential to the system working as a coherent counter-UAS capability, DARPA has specified the teams are to use the Army’s Maneuver Aviation and Fires Integration Application (MAFIA) service-oriented architecture as a common software framework. MAFIA will standardize the data-fusion engine, decision-aid algorithms, and user interface and will establish a backbone for each teams’ command and control software.

Already fielded by several Defense Department programs of record, MAFIA supports multiple operating systems and provides services, libraries, common applications, and a software development kit for performer integration. These features will facilitate creation of MFP’s envisioned plug-and-play system capable of integrating new sensors and emerging technologies.

DARPA is working closely on MFP with the Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The MFP program is structured in three phases punctuated by open-air demonstrations involving increasingly sophisticated threats and scenarios. The goal is for the technology demonstration system to show initial functionality at the end of Phase 1 and progressively improve, culminating in a full-capability demonstration on a moving vehicle or vessel by the end of Phase 3, according to DARPA.

At the conclusion of each open-air demonstration, DARPA plans to offer the military services and other government agencies the opportunity to fund extended field evaluations of the current technology demonstration system. DARPA’s goal is to develop the interim versions and the final prototype system to meet the needs of a broad number of potential government and commercial users.

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