Deep learning-based aircraft detection methods have been increasingly implemented in recent years. However, due to the multi-resolution imaging modes, aircrafts in different images show very wide diversity on size, view and other visual features, which brings great challenges to detection. Although standard deep convolution neural networks (DCNN) can extract rich semantic features, they destroy the bottom-level location information. The features of small targets may also be submerged by redundant top-level features, resulting in poor detection. To address these problems, we proposed a compact multi-scale dense convolutional neural network (MS-DenseNet) for aircraft detection in remote sensing images. Herein, DenseNet was utilized for feature extraction, which enhances the propagation and reuse of the bottom-level high-resolution features. Subsequently, we combined feature pyramid network (FPN) with DenseNet to form a MS-DenseNet for learning multi-scale features, especially features of small objects. Finally, by compressing some of the unnecessary convolution layers of each dense block, we designed three new compact architectures: MS-DenseNet-41, MS-DenseNet-65, and MS-DenseNet-77. Comparative experiments showed that the compact MS-DenseNet-65 obtained a noticeable improvement in detecting small aircrafts and achieved state-of-the-art performance with a recall of 94% and an F1-score of 92.7% and cost less computational time. Furthermore, the experimental results on robustness of UCAS-AOD and RSOD datasets also indicate the good transferability of our method.
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