Using Gravity to Detect Underground Threats

DARPA selects Lockheed Martin to develop sensor system that can locate and identify underground targets by spotting gravity-based effects from an airborne platform.

 

file

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Lockheed Martina $4.8 million contract to design a sensor system that can locate and identify underground targets by spotting gravity-based effects from an airborne platform.

Under DARPA’s Gravity Anomaly for Tunnel Exposure (GATE) program, Lockheed Martin will develop a prototype sensor and system that can detect, classify, and characterize subterranean threats such as tunnels, bunkers, and caches. The sensor system incorporates a gravity gradiometer, an instrument which measures the tiny variations in the pull of gravity. The GATE sensor will detect those variations to discriminate a man-made void from naturally-occurring features such as topography and geology, yielding a near real-time map of what is underground.

“Our expertise in gravity gradiometers will help increase the capability to detect and characterize subterranean tactical threats by its anomalous gravity signature,” said Dr. James Archibald, General Manager of Lockheed Martin’s Niagara Operation. “This capability will help prevent both underground infiltration of secure perimeters and tactical underground operations, keeping our assets and troops protected.”

Gravity gradiometer systems have historically been used for a variety of applications, including natural resource exploration, navigation, and underground detection. The gravity gradiometer technology measures small differences in the earth’s density. These variations in density yield information on geologic structures, which are indicative hosts of ore bodies or oil and gas deposits, and even voids

Lockheed Martin’s Niagara Falls, NY facility will develop the GATE sensor and system conceptual design under a 12-month Phase 1 contract. DARPA will then decide whether to move on to an 18-month Phase 2 contract to produce a prototype system. For more than three decades, the Gravity Systems team in Niagara Falls has provided the world’s only moving-base gravity gradiometer capabilities. Applications range from defense to commercial markets for hydrocarbon and natural resource exploration.