The UK government is going all out to speed up efforts for tackling rogue drone threats effectively. The airspace security issues prior to Christmas around Gatwick Airport most likely triggered the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) decision to launch a £2m competition for proposals to tackle the future threats of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Defence secretary Gavin Williamson declared this week: “As the security threats from hostile drones are evolving at pace, it’s critical that our armed forces benefit from the very latest technology to stay ahead.” In the military context camera-equipped drones are inexpensive, easily available and need little skill from operators – making them a real problem in modern warzones.
The MOD is looking to develop new defensive capabilities of autonomous decision-making mechanisms and networked sensing systems capable of detecting, tracking, identifying and defeating hostile UAS over complex and varied environments.
According to reports the competition is focused on tackling the challenges of current and future UAS capabilities, in particular:
- Next-generation Counter-UAS technology – new technological solutions to provide robust and cost effective sensing and defeat options.
- Flexible Counter-UAS technology – programmes capable of bringing counter-UAS technologies together and linking with other surveillance systems and cooperative drone awareness systems.
- Countering Future UAS Systems – developing capability to detect and mitigate threats from UAS acting autonomously, in swarms and in highly congested airspace.
The competition is the latest stage in Defence Science and Technology Lab’s (DSTL) ongoing research programme into Countering UAS which has been running for a decade now. This programme has included the extensive research, testing and evaluation of the counter-UAS technology currently employed by the MOD, including the landmark series of ‘Bristow’ trials with industry in 2013, 2015 and 2018.
Promising ideas picked by DASA get £800k for further development. The best of those will then receive more funding in order to turn them into viable products for military units to deploy, as DASA itself explained in detail.
DSTL’s Principal Engineer, David Lugton said, “Among the technologies we’re looking for, we’d be interested in those which can detect and track multiple threats simultaneously with minimal human oversight and against a broad spectrum of UAS types. We’re also interested in Counter-Unmanned Air Systems which can overcome the challenges posed by line of sight blockages, collateral, and ones which can link systems together to improve understanding of the local ‘drone air picture’.”
Phase 1 of the competition which will deliver proof of concept of the proposals will cost approximately £800k and is scheduled to take place from July 2019 to March 2020. The total funding for the competition is expected to be at least £2m, split over multiple phases. For interested drone tech enthusiasts the full competition document can be found here.