Having had limited success catching America’s enemies by “smoking them out of their holes,” Lockheed Martin and the DoD are turning to an airborne sensor-based platform to map the subterranean world and identify possible threats hiding there. As part of DARPA’s Gravity Anomaly for Tunnel Exposure (GATE) program, Lockheed will develop a system that identifies underground targets by analyzing gravity signatures for the sign of man-made tunnels, bunkers, or caches.

The sensor platform will work from the sky, saving ground troops the trouble of traversing difficult terrain. Mounted on a drone or perhaps a manned aircraft, the system is expected to detect and classify characteristics of the underground as natural or man-made in real time using gravity gradiometers. These instruments, generally used in resource exploration or navigation, measure tiny differences in the Earth’s density, and according to Lockheed should “discriminate a man-made void from naturally-occurring features such as topography and geology, yielding a near real-time map of what is underground.”

But what then? If an underground bunker is detected but is determined inaccessible troops for geological or political reasons, DARPA has a few tricks up its sleeve, not least of which is an autonomous tunneling vehicle that can drop from a plane, burrow underground, and deliver a munitions payload to a location of the military’s choosing. By comparison, “smoking them out” sounds antique.

[Lockheed Martin via Danger Room]