Launch Stories provides warfighters, sponsors, partners, and taxpayers with an inside look at the technologies and research developed by small businesses working with the Air Force.
Sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this new forum highlights the advanced tools and innovations that drive US competitiveness and make service members safer, better informed, and more efficient than ever. These are their stories.
(If you are interested in partnering with the Air Force to develop a new technology or explore new markets, you can find more information here.)
Congress established the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program in 1982 to strengthen the role of smaller businesses in federally-funded research and development. This program stimulates technological innovation, uses small businesses to meet Federal R&D needs, and increases private sector competition, productivity, and economic growth.
The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, a sister program to SBIR, was established by Congress in 1992 to encourage small business partnerships with Universities, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, and qualified non-profit research institutions.
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Imagine you are a soldier in a small tactical force operating in a hostile territory. The enemy force is near, but their exact location and movements cannot be seen from your current position. Your only asset for performing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions is a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). With the Moving Target Indication (MTI) capabilities of IMSAR's NanoSAR, you can detect, locate, and track enemy forces from the small UAV.
Discovering the movements and patterns of life of enemy forces provides a critical advantage to military personnel. The technology required to detect, locate, and track moving targets has previously only been available to large military units with significant assets and resources. But the knowledge of enemy movement is most crucial to tactical forces on or near the front lines. Providing the needed information to the forces that need it most requires the same capabilities on smaller platforms. Moving Target Indication (MTI) capabilities from a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) would provide much-needed information to soldiers without putting them in harm's way.
Aircraft agnostic radar mounting pod.
ScanEagle integration. (Photo courtesy of INSITU)
NanoSAR Shadow integration
Advanced radar capabilities, like wide area Moving Target Indication (MTI), improve battlefield awareness for all military units. Without the ability to detect, locate, and track moving targets from small, unmanned assets, tactical military forces have to rely on other methods to gather Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) information on enemy force movements. The other methods typically require more personnel and more expensive resources and place the personnel or expensive resources in harm's way. The decision results in either failing to gather needed ISR information or risking personnel and equipment. Currently, the primary sensor on small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is an Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensor. Detecting targets of interest with EO/IR cameras is both labor intensive and error prone because canvassing a large area through the narrow field of view provided by optical imagery is a needle-in-a-haystack problem. Simultaneously tracking multiple targets with EO/IR assets also requires sophisticated coordination between camera operators.
IMSAR leveraged its existing NanoSAR Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) system to bring advanced capabilities to tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The NanoSAR is the world's smallest SAR in terms of Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP). The radar electronics assembly of the NanoSAR system measures 5.5" by 3.5" by 2", weighs less than 1 lb., and consumes less than 30 Watts of power in a typical configuration. The Air Force Research Labs (AFRL) provided the funding and other support required to develop a Moving Target Indication (MTI) mode for the NanoSAR system, which allowed the NanoSAR to successfully demonstrate MTI functionality without significant increases in SWaP.
"Having these multi-mode radar systems on small UAVs are enabling our researchers to explore new capabilities faster and at a much lower cost than ever before." — Todd Jenkins
The NanoSAR performs Moving Target Indication (MTI) by positioning multiple receive antennas along the length of the aircraft and comparing the return from each. The return from stationary ground targets will follow a predictable pattern while independently moving targets deviate from that pattern and can be isolated. The isolation of moving targets is accomplished using complex algorithms known as Space-Time Adaptive Processing (STAP). Once a moving target is identified, the geo-location of that target can be determined by using the range information inherently available from radar signals and the bearing information from multiple antenna returns. The MTI radar rapidly scans a wide area of interest to detect moving targets within the sensor footprint, and the detections are automatically correlated into a track for each target. This allows the radar system to simultaneously monitor the movement of dozens of targets of interest within a several kilometer diameter circle and present meaningful target histories to the analyst consuming the final data. All of this radar information can be obtained despite the presence of rain, fog, smoke, or other visually degraded environments. The detection and track information can be used to cross cue available EO/IR assets for target identification. EO/IR operators can toggle between targets of interest to gather specific information on those targets while the MTI radar continues to keep track of each moving target within the scene.
With the development of the Moving Target Indication function of the NanoSAR system, capabilities formerly available only to large military units with large Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance assets are now available to tactical military units with small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The tactical units can now have virtually the same battlefield and situational awareness as the larger units without risking personnel or more expensive equipment.
The ability to perform MTI with the NanoSAR system has increased the desirability of the NanoSAR system within the small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) market. A previous version of the NanoSAR has already been deployed on the RQ-7B Shadow, the Army's program of record. IMSAR anticipates that the MTI-capable version of the NanoSAR will also be integrated and deployed on the RQ-7B Shadow and on the Navy's/Marine's program of record, the RQ-21A Blackjack.
The lower cost of procurement and operation of small radars on small drones replaces more expensive and larger systems. Every military is seeking greater capability at a lower cost. The U.S. and its allies are more competitive by conserving precious budgetary resources.
By shepherding the development of advanced radar modes, the Air Force Research Labs have laid the groundwork for technology that will go into nearly every branch of the government that protects our freedoms: Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army, and the Coast Guard. Rather than independent development in each organization, significant savings in time and money are realized. There is significant potential savings in procurement, training and support by using a common radar across multiple services.
IMSAR was founded in 2004. In 2008 IMSAR changed the industry when they demonstrated the NanoSAR A, the world’s smallest SAR. Since then, the company has become the world leader in miniature SAR technology for manned and unmanned platforms.
Advanced Radar Concepts For Small (Tier I/II) RPAs
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