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DARPA looks for more monitoring capabilities at polar caps

As the polar ice caps recede in the face of a warming earth, opportunities to exploit previously-unavailable seabed and ocean lanes open up, requiring more sophisticated and rugged monitoring technology to keep things safe, said DARPA on March 16.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Defense Department’s research arm, is looking for “innovative technologies for assured arctic awareness.”

The agency has set a workshop on March 30 to review ideas for sensor systems that can survive demanding polar environments.

DARPA said it envisions environmentally-responsible, advanced distributed unmanned sensor systems for the Arctic, as the region “is poised for greater regional significance as polar ice retreats in coming decades.”

It said ship traffic will increase in the region in the summer months and it also expects commercial activity focused on the sea floor to grow. To monitor those activities in the isolated, vast and environmentally extreme arctic, remote sensing could offer affordable advantages over traditional methods of monitoring the region, it said, possibly considerably augmenting the aircraft, satellites or manned ships and submarines that now watch the great distances in the area.

To enable future capability for regional situational awareness and maritime security, DARPA said its Assured Arctic Awareness (AAA) program plans 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. AAA, said the agency, is looking for advances in sensor systems and related technologies—like station-keeping capabilities—that are rugged enough to withstand Arctic conditions, economical to operate and environmentally responsible with minimal impact.

DARPA said it wants proposals from vendors that specifically take the perceived negatives of the harsh polar environment and turn them into positives for a suite of unique Arctic capabilities.

 “We’re looking for creative ideas for compelling component technologies and a vision for applying them to monitor the region—whether proposers have expertise in the Arctic or not,” said Andy Coon, DARPA program manager.

 For example, those with experience in unattended ground or maritime sensors, low-temperature electronics, distributed remote sensing technologies, or autonomous operations could contribute to the development of novel technology solutions applicable to the Arctic, it said. DARPA wants input from theose and other technical communities to develop components that address system attributes like design, mobility and deployment, persistence, survivability, energy management, sensing, and long-haul communications back to the U.S. Tests of component proposals will occur, for the most part, in climatic laboratories to assess how well they handle simulated Arctic conditions before taking them to the Arctic for field trial, it said.

 “We seek to increase the diversity of contributors, including environmental research organizations, academia, traditional defense contractors and others,” said John Kamp, DARPA deputy program manager.

 The program doesn’t want to simply adapt warm latitude solutions to to the Arctic and it doesn’t seek new platforms for access.

“The goal is to identify one or two compelling system concepts enabled by new technologies and insights gained from the effort,” Coon said. “Compelling system concepts are those that enhance future maritime security in a cost-effective and responsible manner.”


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