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DARPA and AFRL take laser aim at small UAVs

The US Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are ramping up their efforts to thwart small unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), with two recent requests out looking for sensors and lasers to shoot down or disable them.

Today, US convoys are not only threatened by roadside bombs, but growing swarms of small, cheap, commercial UAVs that neither rely on GPS or radio receivers to operate. As part of DARPA’s Mobile Force Protection, the agency is developing an integrated system that could sense and “neutralise” self-guided small UAVs. The system would fit on humvees and the US Coast Guard’s Defender class boats, with the ability to detect and defeat groups of UAVs at least 1km away. DARPA is calling on industry to move quickly, with a field demonstration planned within 15 months.

“DARPA is not looking for end-to-end systems, but rather innovative technology components that can be integrated with current [Mobile Force Protections] prime integrators’ fielded concepts,” the 20 September request for information posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website states.

Meanwhile, the US Air Force Research Laboratory is gearing up for a demonstration using directed energy technology to counter group one and two UAVs. Like DARPA, the USAF would kick off the demo in fiscal year 2018. The USAF is considering both high powered microwaves and laser weapon systems that could find, fix and target single or multiple UAVs, according to the 15 September request for information.

The USAF could look to mature technologies, such as Raytheon’s CHAMP-derivative to counter UAVs. When momentum on the Boeing AGM-86 missile-based Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project has cooled, Raytheon continued development with a ground-based air defence system that fries UAV electronics using a high-powered microwave.

The system is integrated with radar that tracks an unmanned vehicle and then determines whether it can pulse the target with a high-powered microwave source. Raytheon originally developed the HPM demonstrator for the Army, but the company could tailor the capability for the USAF or US Navy, Raytheon told reporters last year.

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