DARPA Using Echodyne Radars to Detect and Track Drones

Echodyne has announced that its EchoGuard and EchoFlight radars were used by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) during the Aerial Dragnet. DARPA's Aerial Dragnet program aims to detect and track small UAS in urban terrain. The program took place in San Diego during the week of October 21, 2019. In conjunction with the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington (APL-UW), Echodyne’s EchoGuard and EchoFlight radars provided comprehensive surveillance of drone activity in San Diego’s urban airspace.

The DARPA testing involved radar sensors on two large tethered aerostat balloons flying up to 400 feet above ground level (AGL) over San Diego and National City, as well as fixed building-top and tower-mounted locations providing large-area coverage. The sensors were tuned to detect and track small drones and distinguish them from background objects such as buildings, vehicles, and birds. The testing assessed how well the system could detect, track and identify over 150 models of drones including various commercial off-the-shelf models, similar to those available at electronics stores or online retailers, which simulated unauthorized/unidentified drones flying in the city.

Drone sales into the consumer and commercial segments will result in nearly 2 million unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the US in 2020, and the global market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20.5% to reach nearly $43 billion in 2024, per the FAA Aerospace Forecast and a separate industry report. With this volume of drones in the airspace, dense urban areas will need to evolve from point security deployments to full urban airspace situational awareness.

San Diego was a natural choice to test this system given the city’s participation in the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (IPP). While DARPA’s focus is on protecting U.S. troops from drone attacks in urban settings overseas, the system under development could ultimately help protect U.S. metropolitan areas from potential drone-enabled terrorist threats.

The DARPA requirement to create full urban airspace situational awareness has been challenging. In conjunction with APL-UW, Echodyne operated more than a dozen radars on aerostats and rooftops to detect and track urban drone flights. The performance demonstrated that Echodyne’s innovative, beam-steering, electronically scanning radars have unique operational, sensitivity, and intelligence characteristics necessary to conduct networked airspace surveillance over a major US city like San Diego.

Click to learn more about the EchoGuard and EchoFlight radars.

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