DARPA seeks innovative technologies for assured Arctic awareness; environmentally responsible advanced distributed unmanned sensor system
Due to anticipated retreating Arctic ice in the coming decades, shipping is expected to increase during the summer months as will effort to exploit natural resources along the resource-rich continental shelf. This growth in activity will increase the strategic significance of the region, and will drive a need to ensure stability through effective regional monitoring, according to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The extreme environmental conditions of the Arctic challenge the ability of conventional technology to provide such monitoring. To enable future capability for regional situational awareness and maritime security, DARPA’s Assured Arctic Awareness (AAA) program is soliciting (DARPA-BAA-12-28) innovative research proposals to develop new technologies to monitor the Arctic both above and below the ice, providing year-round situational awareness without the need for forward-basing or human presence.
The Arctic is physically vast, with transpolar distances of over two thousand nautical miles, and typical transit distances from the US of over one thousand miles. Remote distributed sensing is a way to provide stand-off situation awareness in the Arctic, and is an emphasis for the program. Distributed and unmanned systems offer the advantage of extensive footprints as well as proximity, without the potential system costs of large manned platforms and basing. As with the development of any remote distributed system, developers will need to overcome the technical challenges of persistence, survivability, energy management, sensing, mobility, delivery, and communications. Such endeavors are further challenged by the extreme meteorological and environmental conditions of the Arctic.
For example: polar ice isolates underwater activities from overhead assets; extensive darkness and cloud cover limit electro-optical imaging; instability in the ionosphere disrupts radio frequency propagation; geosynchronous satellites access can fail at latitudes above 70 °N; and temperatures can fall below -65 °C affecting hardware designs.—DARPA BAA
DARPA suggests that the unique physical attributes and emergent environmental trends in the Arctic offer opportunities to tailor new technology that otherwise limits traditional approaches. The focus of this opportunity is to develop a rich set of technology options supportive of Arctic situation awareness, and establish their technical feasibility. The government will host at least two field demonstrations with Arctic-like conditions to support feasibility demonstrations.
At the completion of contract performance, DARPA anticipates a wide-range of technologies and system concepts to shape a possible follow on solicitation which may take the form of specific system developments or a DARPA challenge.
For the current Arctic funding opportunity, DARPA identifies two technical Areas of Interest:
Under-ice awareness. Proposed solutions in this area should leverage unique Arctic properties (e.g., under-ice acoustic propagation, noise, and non-acoustic properties) to enable distributed unmanned autonomous systems to find and hold targets underwater. Primary interest lies in anti-submarine warfare (ASW), however innovative approaches for the detection of structures, bathymetry, and other measurements where compelling cases are made for their strategic value will be considered.
Surface awareness. Proposed technologies in this area will leverage unique Arctic properties (e.g., electromagnetic and optical phenomena, ice distributions within a coverage area, the narrow passageways for shipping traffic, and other unique attributes) to enable distributed unmanned autonomous systems to find and hold surface contacts in the marginal ice zone and summer ice-free waters. Primary interest lies in surface ship and ice tracking, however, this technical area will include innovative approaches for enabling technologies such as networking, data exfiltration, the detection of other activity and conditions of concern where compelling cases are made for their strategic value.
Multiple awards are possible. The anticipated awards are expected to be in the range of $250,000 to $500,000 per award for a 6- to 9-month effort, excluding potential, but justified testing in the Arctic. The amount of resources made available under this BAA will depend on the quality of the proposals received and the availability of funds, DARPA says.
A Proposers’ Day is planned for 30 March.