A long-awaited robotic security system—capable of detecting intruders,
assessing their intentions, communicating their location and even stopping them
in their tracks—will be evaluated next month at Hawthorne Army Depot,
Nev. The Mobile Detection Assessment and Response System (MDARS) was conceived
to provide security at installations in the United States, but program officials
now intend to send it to forward operating bases around the world.
“Our intent is to get that technology to areas of responsibility as soon
as we have the bugs ironed out,” said Lt. Col. Eugene Stockel, product
manager for U.S. Army force protection systems.
That deployment, however, depends on having enough resources and on demonstrating
the systems’ relevance, he said.
Stockel’s office is conducting an analysis of alternatives on the system
“to determine what is the end- state requirement to field this capability
to forces overseas,” Stockel told National Defense. “We are certainly
exploring the potential to take the prototype systems overseas and putting them
in the field, and see how well they do, but we do not want to do that until
we characterize their performance.”
After the early user appraisal, which will last for eight months, the system
will be refined and prepared for the milestone decision authority that will
give the green light to produce a certain number of systems to meet, at first,
the requirements in the United States. The production decision should be reached
by March 2006.
MDARS is designed to provide automated intrusion detection and inventory assessment
on military bases and depots. It is expected to operate autonomously, in a stand-alone
mode or with other intrusion detection systems.
MDARS has three services participating—the Army, Navy and Air Force and
is funded under the Defense Department physical security equipment action group.
The Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command developed the host
architecture, while the Army Military Police School developed the operational
requirements document. The system comports with the Air Force’s operational
requirements for the integrated base defense 2020 concept, Stockel told an industry
conference organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
The idea behind MDARS is to provide multiple platforms that perform random
patrols within assigned areas on bases and warehouse. During these patrols,
these systems are programmed to detect, for example, anomalous conditions, such
as flooding or fires, intruders and determine the status of items in inventory.
Through tagging, the platform can verify the contents of closed structures without
The mobile platforms employ a suite of sensors that are autonomously controlled
by a monitor panel. The mobility base is a four-wheel hydrostatic-drive, diesel-powered
vehicle equipped with active laser, ultra-sonic sonar, millimeter-wave radar
and stereo video sensors for collision avoidance. The vehicle also is outfitted
with intrusion detection and assessment forward-looking infrared, radar, camera
and pan/tilt turret, as well as vehicle communications link antennas and differential
General Dynamics Robotic Systems is the prime contractor. The company also
developed a system that can be used solely for interiors.
MDARS has been in the making since 1992. Approximately $12 million has been
poured into the program, according to Stockel. Development has “taken
a while,” said Stockel, because it was a daunting technical challenge.
“The program itself has been modestly budgeted,” he said. It was
a precursor to the current robotics craze and the emphasis that the Army’s
future combat systems places on unmanned systems.
“It was pretty much a forerunner,” he said. “MDARS was on
a shoe-string budget.” But the program may well become a springboard for
the development of autonomous robots in the Future Combat Systems—a network
of manned and unmanned platforms that will replace existing tanks and fighting
The FCS lead systems integrator—the Boeing-SAIC team—is working
on developing an autonomous navigation system for unmanned ground vehicles.
These include the Soldier Unmanned Ground Vehicle, the Mule utility transport,
the armed robotic vehicle-light, the Mule network retransmission link, the ARV-reconnaissance
and ARV-assault vehicle, according to SAIC’s Scott Fish, a former program
manager for unmanned ground combat vehicles at the Defense Advanced Research
“We are using the General Dynamics robotic systems team for this effort,
and it spans across the Mule and the ARV heavy and the manned ground vehicle,”
Fish said at the conference. The FCS program currently is looking at research
and development efforts for the autonomous navigation capability.
In the grand scheme of the future force, MDARS may find its place supporting
the so-called FCS unit of employment. The UE will be deployed at logistics bases,
ports and airfields. “That is where you find the utility for MDARS,”
Stockel maintained, however, that the mission MDARS performs will be outside
the FCS operational requirements document. “This is not a competitor for
FCS,” he added.
Meanwhile, Hawthorne Army Depot is being readied for the early user testing
of four science-development and demonstration vehicles in June.
The Army is laying out the communications infrastructure and putting together
some of the target assessments with which the robot will interact.
Hawthorne is an “ideal” environment to test the robots, because
it is remarkably similar to Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. The vehicle will
do autonomous patrolling, and will remotely interrogate a series of bunkers
and “alarm” points, as well as check the status of locking devices
and items in storage. “Through ID tagging technology [it renders] real
visibility of the assets that are stored within the bunker, Stockel said.
MDARS also will have to respond to the installation standardized intruder detection
systems and sensors.
MDARS is supposed to run 12 hours without human intervention. Logistics and
sustainment also will be tested.
In order to employ a robot autonomously, the operator must maintain reliable
communications with the platform, “because it is a security system and
communications is critical to maintain positive control of the system,”
The autonomy is achieved through overlapping sensor capability, explained Stockel.
“It has a scanning laser radar that is looking out beyond the vehicle.
That radar brings back returns, and then paints a picture within the robot’s
processor of the environment to its immediate front.” As such, it will
determine, based on the character of the return, whether it is identifying an
“If it is too big, it will stop. It will navigate around the obstacle,
or send signals to the control panel,” he said. The robot can detect the
obstacles to about 30 meters, while another laser beam scans the terrain right
in front of the vehicle. It collects information and updates the pathway in
front of the robot. “It is mounted low, in front of the vehicle, to pick
up the elements that fall out of view, scanning in front of the vehicle,”
The course the robot will have to take is uploaded into the system beforehand,
in the form of digital terrain data. “For our operational requirement
and mission, you upload the pathways on the robot and the operation consoles,
so that you can govern whether the robot will operate and how it will respond,”
If there is an intrusion that is detected by a fence sensor or unattended ground
sensor, the robot can be cued by that alarm to respond, move to a particular
position and provide the operator with a video.
“The robot moves to an over-watch position and does scanning of detection,”
said Stockel. It provides both day and night assessment of what is going on.
“When we get it right it is a very capable and beneficial capability for
performing the drudgery of surveillance,” he said.
Depending on how it is employed, MDARS has the potential, coupled with supplemental
ground sensors, to reduce the security personnel that may be needed, he said.
Planned enhancements for MDARS include improved all-weather detection, outfitting
the system with ballistic and nuclear biological and chemical protection, and
military secure communications. A more advanced MDARS should have an improved
off-road performance and a larger, more adaptive payload. All these adjustments
have to be made in a fashion that will keep down the cost per unit, so that
it “allows us to procure a lot of these,” he said.
The current MDARS vehicles cost about $500,000 each.