DARPA launches program to combat suicide drones
Thu 23 Mar 2017
DARPA has launched a new program to combat the threat of suicide drones, which can be loaded with explosives and deployed without the use of radio signals.
The Mobile Force Protection (MFP) Program will begin Phase 1 development and testing this spring. The aim of the program is to develop a system capable of defeating a raid of drones sent to attack a moving asset, such as a troop convoy.
Specifically, DARPA is looking for a solution that can counter multiple threats on a mobile asset moving at up to 70 miles per hour. Appropriate anti-drone weaponry must be able to detect an attack in an extended range and react quickly to a recognized threat.
Focusing on a mobile solution with anti-drone capabilities is hoped to benefit stationary anti-drone activities as well, because of the necessity for a low-footprint, small and lightweight solution which is both effective and affordable.
DARPA sent out a request for ideas and project submissions last fall, with a proposer’s day held at the Pentagon last October. Proposals were due in January, and $9.6 million has been budgeted for Phase I awards. An additional $23.5 million is available for Phase 2, and $30 million for Phase 3.
Currently, the best method for sighting and tracking a drone in flight is by tracking the radio signal used for control. But in the case of a suicide drone, coordinates may be pre-programmed, allowing the drone to fly independently, without radio control. This makes the vehicle more difficult to see and track using existing methods.
To be eligible for consideration, solutions presented under the MFP program are prohibited from harming US troops or civilians, which rules out high-powered directed-energy weapons as well as certain high-caliber projectile weapons whose use could result in harmful fragments.
Appropriate solutions could include electronic warfare or laser dazzlers, which could be used to interfere with preprogrammed guidance systems, or foam encapsulation or net capture of the drones themselves, rendering the devices useless.
Phase 1 testing will begin in May, with the top two performers moving on to Phase 2. They will have 18 months to improve upon their product before the Phase 2 competition, and in Phase 3, the top competitor will be required to successfully counter a simulated drone attack.