Tip-Off Optical Reconnaissance-Sensor for Counter Hypersonics (TORCH)

Navy SBIR 23.1 - Topic N231-013
NAVAIR - Naval Air Systems Command
Pre-release 1/11/23   Opens to accept proposals 2/08/23   Closes 3/08/23 12:00pm ET   [ View Q&A ]

N231-013 TITLE: Tip-Off Optical Reconnaissance-Sensor for Counter Hypersonics (TORCH)

OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML);Hypersonics;Space

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop and demonstrate critical elements of advanced optical system design for the detection, identification, and tracking of hypersonic cruise missiles to provide early cueing of fixed-site and ship self-defense systems in a tiered fixed and mobile network utilizing both unmanned and manned platform concepts.

DESCRIPTION: Due to the rapidly escalating threat that hypersonic vehicles present to Armed Forces of the United States, it is desirable to have reliable early warning system for "tip off" alert to incoming hypersonic vehicles. This SBIR topic is looking to augment a stationary and mobile tiered capability with a unique optical sensor capable of addressing this threat type. This capability is also measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT).

Hypersonic weapons represent a new and disruptive threat to Armed Forces worldwide. The operational attributes of this class of vehicle present a unique detection and defense problem. There is a need for advanced sensing to support initial detection ("tipoff"), as well as targeting and guidance for defensive systems. A unique attribute of hypersonic weapons is the ability to maneuver and approach a target area from many potential directions, which vastly complicates the sensing problem by increasing the required search volume and requiring increased sensing resources. To be useful, a cost-effective, distributed, early-warning sensing architecture is required to provide "tipoff" to alert Armed Forces of incoming hypersonic threats.

The attributes of such an architecture include, but are not limited to:

(a) a passive sensor with target classification capability,

(b) capability to relay communications through multiple pathways, and

(c) a cost-effective and covert platform.

Sensor Chip Array (SCA) target metric characteristics include, but are not limited to:

(a) Format 1024 x 1024

(b) Pixel Pitch 20 m x 20 m

(c) Wave Band Optimized Mid-Wave Infrared (MWIR)

(d) Quantum Efficiency 80%

(e) Operating Temperature 150 K (goal)

(f) Frame Rate 2.5 kHz (full frame), 10-50 kHz (windowed)

(g) Read Noise (input referred RMS) 350 e-

(h) Well Depth 250 k e-

(i) Single Sensor FOV 34

(j) NEI (measured) 2E11 photon/cms


Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by DoD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) formerly Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances. This will allow contractor personnel to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DCSA and NAVAIR in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advanced phases of this contract.

PHASE I: Define sensor carrying requirements in terms of power, volume, weight, noise limitations, motion limitations, and so forth. Identify specific configuration(s) to be included, and develop the strategy and design of integration and scale of the autonomous platform. Define the prototype system to include the requirements of observation behaviors, software, and communications to allow cooperative sensor array technology. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

PHASE II: Develop a prototype that can perceive, identify, and track a hypersonic vehicle in an idealized Navy data collection. Further develop a prototype and demonstrate it on a manned or unmanned system. Perform ground- or sea-based trials data collection of individual vehicles in terms of feature identification performance, operational agility, and accuracy. Perform limited sea trial test data analysis of airborne objects.

Work in Phase II may become classified. Please see note in Description paragraph.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Complete final testing and perform necessary integration and transition for use in counter-hypersonic surveillance and monitoring operations with appropriate current platforms and agencies and future combat systems under development.

Commercially, this product could be used to enable remote airborne environmental and satellite monitoring.


1.       Wong, C.M.K. and Yakimenko, O. "Rocket launch detection and tracking using EO sensor [Paper presentation]." 2017 3rd International Conference on Control, Automation and Robotics (ICCAR), Nagoya, Japan, 2017, pp. 766-770. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7942801

2.       Mclaughlin, K.L.; Gault, A. and Brown, D.J.. "Infrasound detection of rocket launches." Science Applications International Corp (SAIC) Arlington, VA, September 2000. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228643229_Infrasound_detection_of_rocket_launches

3.       Zastrow, M. "How does Chinas hypersonic glide vehicle work?" Astronomy, November 4, 2021. https://astronomy.com/news/2021/11/how-does-chinas-hypersonic-glide-vehicle-work

4.       Gosnold. "Detecting hypersonics." SatelliteObservation.net, November 15, 2018. https://satelliteobservation.net/2018/11/15/detecting-hypersonics/

5.       Judson, J. "Congress wants answers on how DoD is solving a hypersonic weapons detection gap." Defense News, September 13, 2021. https://www.defensenews.com/pentagon/2021/09/13/congress-wants-answers-on-how-dod-is-solving-a-hypersonic-weapons-detection-gap/

6.       Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency. (n.d.). https://www.dcsa.mil/

7.       Department of Defense. (2006, February 28). DoD 5220.22-M National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (Incorporating Change 2, May 18, 2016). Department of Defense. https://www.esd.whs.mil/portals/54/documents/dd/issuances/dodm/522022m.pdf


KEYWORDS: Hypersonic; counter-hypersonic; electro-optic; surveillance; classification; remote sensing; AI/ML

TPOC-1: Anthony Brescia

Phone: (301) 342-2094


TPOC-2: Jeff Noel 

Phone: (301) 342-0088


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the Navy Topics in the DoD 23.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at www.defensesbirsttr.mil/SBIR-STTR/Opportunities/#announcements for any updates.

The DoD issued its Navy 23.1 SBIR Topics pre-release on January 11, 2023 which opens to receive proposals on February 8, 2023, and closes March 8, 2023 (12:00pm ET).

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Topic Q & A

1/16/23  Q. Can the format vary from what is stated - is it <20um pixel and >1024x1024?
   A. The values provided are the max/min acceptable ranges. For an example the pixel size could 10um in a 2048x2048 format or 10um in a 1048x1048 format.

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