The military could soon be hunting for terror threats using detailed maps of the planet's subterranean territory - thanks to aerial vehicles that tap into the "anomalous gravity signature[s]" of structures built beneath the earth's surface.
Lockheed Martin has received a $4.8 million, 12-month contract to create a prototype sensor that spots, categorizes and maps man-made facilities concealed underground. And does it all from the safety of the sky, embedded in a drone and linked to cameras that'd stream the data in real-time.
Pentagon blue sky R&D arm, Darpa, is behind this one. Last year, the agency's Gravity Anomaly for Tunnel Exposure (GATE) program sought proposals for a system that used a gradiometer to measure miniscule variations in the pull of gravity. Those variations detect differences in the earth's density, indicating underground space. And the sensors would even be attuned enough to "discriminate a man-made void from naturally-occurring features such as topography and geology," according to Lockheed's press release.
"Our expertise in gravity gradiometers will help increase the capability to detect and characterize subterranean tactical threats," Lockheed's Dr. James Archibald says. (I assume he's talking about the guy dressed in black and illustrated above.) "This capability will help prevent both underground infiltration of secure perimeters and tactical underground operations, keeping our assets and troops protected."
The final product should be able to "detect tunnels [and] offer a mapped outline of their pathways."
And this is only the latest in a series of Pentagon-backed projects to map the planet, dig deep, and then destroy. Darpa's actually got an entire division of projects dedicated to "Underground Facility Detection & Characterization," which pairs nicely with initiatives to develop bores that punch through 60 feet of concrete, and "rocket balls" that can propel themselves into deep earth - without blowing up hidden WMDs at the same time.
Image by Lockheed Martin