Last month the US Defense Department military contractor Dyneticswon the right to build several reusable drone prototypes referred to as Gremlins.
Dynetics won the contract over other weapons manufacturer such as Lockheed Martin and General Atomics.
This particular type of drone can be dropped from C-130 Hercules aircraft, deploy en masse for a mission and then return and be recovered by the very same plane mid-flight.
According to Dynetics, Gremlins are designed to be low-cost, reusable and dispatched in swarms. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] are trialling the drones to assess their operational capabilities.
How will the drones be collected once they finish their mission?
Dynetics proposal is that Hercules planes will lower a “stabilized capture device” (essentially a long cable) that the drone will fly towards (much like a plane refuelling). The drones will dock, be powered off and be raised inside the plane and are likely to be stored under the plane’s wing. Whether this method of retrieval will ultimately prove to be practical when retrieving hundreds of drones remains to be seen. The initial drone trials will only be with C-130 planes but it is likely they will eventually be tested for other types of aircraft.
Dynetics were paid $40 million for the contract and will develop drones ready for testing by the end of 2019. The Gremlin style of drones are intended to perform surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence but may eventually also deliver electronic warfare systems.
Footage of the drone being lowered from a C-130 Hercules aircraft
Drone swarms are likely to be a big part of future warfare
When deployed in a large group, drone swarms have the possibility to overwhelm the opponents defenses, taking down electronic systems and may even be weaponized in future (now there’s a scary thought). The Chinese, Russian and United States militaries are all investing in their drone warfare capabilities, partly through a realization that to not do so, will put them at a substantial disadvantage relative to their adversaries. We can only hope such weapons are seldom, if ever used (although one suspects that is a forlorn hope).