DARPA Recruits Trio of Tech Giants for Mobile Force Protection Initiative
Vincent Smith posted on October 23, 2017 |
Dynetics, SAAB and SRC to develop unmanned aircraft systems.

One of the central challenges of being an engineer is coming up with designs that will endure variable conditions. This challenge will be pushed to a new level as DARPA seeks out new ways to defend high-value targets from the growing threat of unmanned aircraft toward military convoys in their Mobile Force Protection (MFP) program. Three main companies have been issued contracts to come up with technological solutions to these issues that are “scaling, modular and affordable” with an emphasis on minimizing collateral damage.

The first, Dynetics has done an abundance of work in aeronautics, including several projects working alongside NASA improving the efficiency of the F-1 engine, as well as the development of the more recent AR-1. Most prominently, it served a primary role in the development of the world’s largest precision-guided, air-dropped system, colloquially known as the MOAB or Mother of All Bombs.

The second, SAAB, is the oldest and most diversified of the three, providing solutions in areas as wide ranging as aeronautics, dynamics, surveillance, security and defense, support and services since 1937. One of its biggest achievements is being only one of only two licensed providers of the Ultra Lightweight Camouflage Net System, which “provides multispectrum detection from visual, near-infrared, thermal-infrared and broadband radar detection.” Pretty handy for evading drones.

The third and last of these is SRC, which has the distinction of being a not-for-profit organization amongst its otherwise capital-driven compatriots. Originating out of Syracuse University in the 1950s, SRC’s military contributions have been primarily in the form of radar, communications and electronic warfare.

SAAB, SRC and Dynetics’ combination of industry expertise and diverse specialties bring quite a bit to bear on the problems presented by small, unmanned aircraft systems (sUASs). However, the urgent threats represented by them add some additional wrinkles to the situation. As stated in the release, DARPA is specifically looking for approaches that “could be deployed within the next three to four years and nimbly evolve with advances in threats, tactics and technology.” These are the kinds of solutions that could be fitted to vehicles already in the field and compatible with the Mobile Aviation and Fires Integration Application (MAFIA) architecture DARPA uses for many of its tools.

The need to build something that can function under conditions of uncertainty is ever present in engineering; however, 1) the particularly chaotic nature of combat scenarios, 2) the short timeframe DARPA has presented and 3) requiring compatibility with existing technology all present a number of variables for the trio of companies to contend with. It will be interesting to see what shakes out during the open-air demonstrations that DARPA has scheduled to conclude the first phase of this project.

For more research from DARPA, check out these drones that multitask in mid-flight.

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