Fighter jet satellite launching, robot sub hunters and more from DARPA

DARPA released biennial report of Breakthrough Technologies for National Security. Here are some featured DARPA projects.

The Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program seeks to propel 100-pound satellites into orbit for less than $1 million per flight by using low-cost, expendable upper stages launched from unmodified conventional aircraft. ALASA aims to provide more affordable, flexible and reliable access to space.

The Airborne Launch Assist Space Access will work even better when the US has hypersonic jet fighters in the mach 5 to 10+ ranges.

Revolutionizing Close Air Support

When ground forces have identified the location of an adversary out of their reach, or are pinned down and in need of support from the air, they should not be dependent on paper maps and voice communications to convey essential information to pilots. Yet that has been the case, until recently. DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) system digitizes and greatly simplifies the mission-critical capability of air support. Today, DARPA is transitioning PCAS’ air and ground technologies to Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), giving ground elements the capability to request air-delivered munitions from manned or unmanned platforms with unmatched accuracy and shared awareness. Specifically, USASOC has committed to integrate and deploy PCAS technology with its fleet of MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned platforms and related networking systems.

M1-QC Grey Eagle

Delivering Long-Range Anti-Ship Capabilities

DARPA jumpstarted the development of the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a precision-guided anti-ship standoff missile that is on track to reduce dependence on ISR platforms while extending range significantly. After successful flight tests in August and December 2013, the Navy has stepped up to work in close partnership with DARPA. With yet another successful test in February 2015, this time led by the Navy, the joint effort is speeding deployment of this system to deliver its unprecedented capabilities for the warfighter.

Creating Deep-Ocean “Satellites”

DARPA’s Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH) program is creating fixed and mobile underwater observing systems that look up from the ocean floor. Just as satellites provide a wide-area view of the ground from space, these systems can see submarine threats passing overhead across vast volumes of ocean. This deep-ocean system has as a goal the ability to track a submarine until other platforms can arrive to track, trail or prosecute the threat. DARPA is working with the Navy to conduct at-sea prototype testing that will integrate these new capabilities with existing undersea surveillance operations—testing that will underpin Navy consideration of a potential program of record for undersea surveillance.

Riding the Gallium Nitride Wave

For years, DARPA and its Service partners pursued the technically daunting task of developing high-power-density, wide-band-gap semiconductor components in the recognition that, whatever the end-state task, U.S. forces would need electronics that could operate and engage at increasing range. The result was a series of fundamental advances involving gallium-nitride-enabled arrays, which now are providing significant benefits in a wide range of applications in the national security domain. Today, three major systems are under development that are enabled by DARPA’s advances in RF component technology: Next Generation Jammer, designed to give the Navy the ability to jam adversary radars to protect U.S. assets; Air and Missile Defense Radar, which is designed to search for and track ballistic missiles and provide terminal illumination of targets; and Space Fence, to boost space domain awareness by providing vastly improved detection of small objects in orbit.