The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA – the British Ministry of Defence’s innovation hub) announced on 5 November it has awarded nearly £2 million (€2.3 million) to develop new capabilities to detect, disrupt and defeat the hostile and malicious use of drones.

Eighteen bids have been funded as part of the Countering Drones competition launched earlier this year. Among the proposal being developed are methods for detecting 4G- and 5G-controlled drones, cutting edge applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) for sensors to automatically identify unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and low-risk methods of stopping drones through novel electronic defeat or interception solutions.

The competition, run by DASA on behalf of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), is the latest stage in Dstl’s ongoing research programme into countering UAS, which has been running for ten years. The competition has also been supported by the Department for Transport and NATO.

The threat from UAS has evolved rapidly and we are seeing the use of hostile improvised UAS threats in overseas theatres of operation. There is a similar problem in the UK with the malicious or accidental use of drones becoming a security challenge at events, affecting critical infrastructure and public establishments, including prisons and major UK airports,” commented the technical lead for the competition, David Lugton.

There was a very high level of interest from industry, with over 90 bids submitted by a wide range of organisations, from micro businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises, large defence firms and academia. This led to a doubling of initial funding to around £2 million being awarded to organisations in Phase 1.

The first phase of this competition, which will run until mid-2020, is intended to demonstrate proof of concepts that can be further developed and integrated during later phases. Phase 2 is planned for next year, with a focus on developing and maturing successful research into integrated solutions.

The 18 projects funded around £100,000 each are:

Airspeed Electronics Ltd – to develop an AI detection system using acoustic sensors;

Animal Dynamics – to develop a swarm system to detect and neutralise UAS by employing peregrine falcon attack strategies;

Autonomous Devices Limited – to develop interception technology;

BAE Systems Applied Intelligence – to develop electromagnetic defeat of UAS;

BAE Systems Applied Intelligence – to develop passive radar for detection of UAVs;

Cubica Technology Ltd – to develop an automatic recognition and targeting system of UAVs from long ranges;

MBDA UK – to demonstrate an integrated system to detect, track and intercept hostile drones;

Northrop Grumman – to develop UAS defeat using cyber and sensor vulnerabilities;

Northumbria University – to develop anti-swarm drone technology;

PA Consulting – to develop a detection system against cellular-controlled UAS;

Plextek Services – to develop detection and signal jamming capability for UAS;

Plextek Services – to develop miniature Counter-UAS radar;

QinetiQ – to develop a drone tracking system in complex environments;

QinetiQ – to develop a ‘hard kill’ for disrupting UAV on-board electronics;

RiskAware Ltd – to develop an automated drone identification and target tracking system;

Thales UK – to develop machine learning for Counter-UAS radar;

University College London – to develop signal processing and machine learning algorithms to identify drones in areas highly populated by birds;

• An additional proposal, subject to contract.

DASA and Dstl will host a collaboration day for the competition in London on 28 November (Image: Crown copyright)

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