Addressing the Nation’s Small Unmanned-Aircraft System Threats
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Mobile Force Protection (MFP) program marked a significant milestone earlier this year. Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, successfully completed the Phase 3 Demonstration of its Counter-Unmanned Air System (CUAS) at Eglin Air Force Base. DARPA announced the successful conclusion of the program on June 7, 2021.
For the MFP program, Dynetics advanced a range of technologies to enable rapid detection, identification, tracking, and neutralization of adversary small unmanned aircraft systems (sUASs) - all while mitigating collateral damage and operating on the move. As the primary systems integrator, Dynetics led a team of large and small defense contractors to create entirely new "kill chains" for DARPA specifically designed to address current and future sUAS threats.
"Our team is very proud to serve as the system integrator on this program for DARPA," said Steve Norris, the MFP program manager for Dynetics. "As we bring this three-phase program to closure, Dynetics looks forward to working with technology transition partners who will benefit from DARPA's foresight in designing this program to address emerging threats."
MFP features a multi-layer defense architecture to defeat unauthorized drone intrusion over fixed-base military installations or on-the-move operations. To meet this need, the MFP system employed two types of reusable interceptors that disable enemy UAS while minimizing the risk of harm to by-standers. The Co-axial Unmanned Guided Autonomous Rotorcraft (CUGAR) from Dynetics was complemented by the fixed-wing MORFIUS interceptor provided by subcontractor Lockheed Martin.
The system protects high-value convoys moving through potentially populated regions. The program also addresses "self-guided" small unmanned aircraft, implying that the threats do not rely upon the RF signals (GPS and C2 Links) traditionally used for navigation and control. Furthermore, the program's focus on defeating raids with multiple threats, rather than single unmanned aerial attackers, required the team to develop an integrated - and innovative - solution including sensors, autonomy, C2 software, and threat mitigations. The open systems architecture was intentionally designed to facilitate the integration of additional sensors and effectors as they become available in the future.
Sense, Decide, and Act
Dynetics' solution is divided into the following three segments:
- Sense - The newly designed multi-function X-band radar enables far-reaching surveillance, discrimination, and tracking while on the move.
- Decide - Advanced C2 software allows the system to operate in a fully autonomous mode in which track management, threat pairing, and countermeasure implementation can be done with or without human intervention. Regardless of mode, human "on-the-loop" intervention is always available.
- Act - Two reusable types of interceptors, both with low-collateral effectors, can collaboratively work together to defend a battle space. Dynetics' CUGAR co-axial VTOL aircraft uses low-cost entangling streamer countermeasures and realizes the advantages of an agile, tube-launchable, VTOL platform. Lockheed Martin's MORFIUS adds the benefits of a fast-moving fixed-wing interceptor with a low-collateral, High Power Microwave payload.
"We have combined the best talent in order to meet the needs of this program," added Norris. "This problem was highly complex, and required the combined talent of these highly capable team members."
Dynetics began working with the MFP program in 2017 when the company was selected as a Phase 1 performer. The team went to work developing technologies and serving as the system integrator for the Phase 1 contract worth approximately $3 million. After a successful field demonstration in January 2018, Phase 2 began later that year in July and Phase 3 was awarded in September 2019.