DARPA looking to drop “volleys” of small drones from larger aircraft

New systems could improve range, survivability of smaller drones

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Here a U.S. Air Force B-52 carries the experimental X-51 Hypersonic Vehicle out for a launch test. DARPA envisions the big bomber as a potential host for small unmanned aircraft like the X-51.

Credit: Reuters

Could a small pack of drones be launched from he underside of a B-52 to swarm a target or gather intelligence? That in part is what researchers at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are looking to explore.

The agency recently put out a Request For Information to explore the feasibility and value of launching and recovering volleys of small unmanned aircraft from one or more existing large airplanes – think B-52, B-1, C-130.

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“Small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have limited range and responsiveness, however, compared to larger airborne platforms. Launching and recovering small UAS from those larger platforms could provide a cost-effective capability over a spectrum of operating environments to greatly extend the range of UAS operations as well as enable an entirely new operational concept for mission sets that benefit from distributed employment,” DARPA stated.

dac DARPA

DARPA laid out the key issues it is looking to get details on before moving along with the project, including:

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Swarming drones seems to be the trend in recent months. The Air Force in October said it was looking at technology that would let it develop a small, low-cost unmanned aircraft it could fly in swarms to handle a number of applications such as protecting a given area or quickly gathering intelligence.The idea is in the planning stages.

And the Office of Naval Research recently demonstrated how swarms of small, unmanned boats can be used to swarm around a threat or protect a larger boat.

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