U.K. Announces £2 Million in Counter Drone Contracts with Industry and Academia

A recent Frost and Sullivan forecast predicts counter-drone market revenues will exceed $2 billion within the next five years. Following attacks on infrastructure including airports and even military targets, there is a heightened demand for such systems. Much of the demand is likely to originate from the United States, but Europe will not be far behind.

This November, the U.K. Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) awarded nearly £2m ($2.5m) to industry and academia 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 British government’s Countering Drones competition launched earlier this year.

The competition calls for techniques which can detect and track multiple threats simultaneously, with minimal human oversight, and against a broad spectrum of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) types. It also seeks counter-UAS 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”.

Among the proposal being developed are methods for detecting 4G & 5G controlled drones, cutting edge applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence for sensors to automatically identify UAS, and low risk methods of stopping drones through novel electronic defeat or interceptor solutions.

The competition is run by DASA – which is the Ministry of Defence’s innovation hub – on behalf of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). It is the latest stage in Dstl’s ongoing research program into countering UAS which has been running for ten years.

The competition has also been supported by the Department for Transport and NATO to counter the rapidly evolving threats from UAS.

David Lugton, competition technical lead, said the threat from UAS has evolved rapidly and their malicious or accidental use is becoming a security challenge, affecting critical infrastructure and public establishments; including prisons and major U.K. airports.

The competition attracted a very high level of interest from industry with over 90 bids from a wide range of organizations from micro businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises, large defense firms and academia. This led to a doubling of initial funding from around £1m to around £2m being awarded to organizations in Phase 1.

The first phase is due to run until summer 2020 and is intended to demonstrate proof of concepts that can be further developed and integrated during later phases. Phase 2 is planned to launch in 2020 with a focus on developing and maturing successful research into integrated solutions.

The projects funded around £100,000 each are:

  • Airspeed Electronics Ltd – to develop an artificial intelligence detection system which uses acoustic sensors.
  • Animal Dynamics – to develop a swarm system to detect and neutralize UAS by employing peregrine falcon attack strategies.
  • Autonomous Devices Limited – to develop interception technology.
  • BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Ltd – to develop electromagnetic defeat of UAS.
  • BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Ltd – to develop passive radar for detection of UAS.
  • Cubica Technology Ltd – to develop an automatic recognition and targeting system of UAS from large distances.
  • MBDA UK Ltd – 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 Limited – to develop detection and signal jamming capability for UAS.
  • Plextek Services Limited – to develop miniature Counter-UAS radar.
  • QinetiQ – to develop a drone tracking system in complex environments.
  • QinetiQ – to develop a ‘hard kill’ for disrupting the UAS’ 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 is currently being considered and will be approved subject to contract.

DASA and Dstl will be hosting a collaboration day for the Countering Drones competition on November 28 2019 in London. Representatives from industry and academia interested in making collaborative bids for Phase 2 of the competition can register their interest in attending the event here.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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