Battlespace Tech

Air Force to ID targets by their vibrations

How do you identify targets when a well-armed foe has the firepower to put manned vehicles at risk and keep ISR drones at bay? The Air Force has one idea: using laser-Doppler vibrometry to identify vehicles, from a distance, by the vibrations they create.

The Air Force Research Laboratory has issued a solicitation looking for systems with vibrometry sensors capable of automated target recognition, identifying features such as vehicle type, engine type, engine speed, the number of cylinders a vehicle has or a fingerprint of the target for identification and recognition.

The program is called Vibrometry Interrogation for Battlefield Exploitation, or VIBE, and AFRL has set aside just under $15 million for it. Specifically, the Air Force wants VIBE to function in anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environments, in which an adversary has the missiles and other munitions to make approaching an area dangerous. A2/AD is something the Defense Department is concerned aboutwith regard to China  and other countries.

Vibrometry uses lasers and the principles of the Doppler effect to scan an object, take fine-grained measurements based on its deflections (caused by vibrations in a vehicle’s motor or a transformer), and use that information in order to identify the object. AFRL’s solicitation says laser vibrometry, which currently is used in aircraft and structural inspections as well as manufacturing, is now mature enough to use for target recognition.

A video from the company Polytec offers a primer on how vibrometry works.

AFRL said VIBE will make use of state-of-the-art technology to enhance its air-to-ground and air-to-air target recognition. The Air Force is not interested in any proprietary hardware or software, but says VIBE is an algorithm development effort, for which is has already performed some preliminary work. AFRL said it would exercise four options under the contract, based on the performance of the automated target recognition systems that are developed.

The response date to the solicitation is March 15, 2016.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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