Can drones hunt with wolf pack-like success? DARPA thinks so

DARPA set to begin research on software that will let drones hunt in packs

code con

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is set to detail a program the agency wants to come up with software and algorithms that would let unmanned military aircraft hunt in packs like wolves.

 The Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment or CODE program looks to extend unmanned aircraft mission capabilities well beyond the current state-of-the-art, by creating a modular software architecture that is resilient to bandwidth limitations and communications disruptions, yet compatible with existing standards and capable of affordable retrofit into existing platforms and in the end letting groups of unmanned systems work together under a single human commander’s supervision, DARPA stated.

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 “Such collaborative autonomy has the potential to significantly increase the capabilities of legacy assets as well as to reduce the cost of future systems by composing heterogeneous teams of unmanned aircraft that can leverage the capabilities of each asset without having to duplicate or integrate capabilities into a single platform.”

DARPA says using collaboration algorithms, unmanned aircraft can provide services to each other, such as:

  • Geo-locating targets with long distance sensors and guiding less capable systems within their sensor range
  • Providing multi-modal sensors and diverse observation angles to improve target identification
  • Transmitting critical information through the network
  • Providing navigational aid to disadvantaged assets
  • Protecting each other by quantitatively overwhelming defenses and other stratagems.
  • Increasing area coverage for target detection or rapid task execution,
  • Dynamically assigning tasks
  • Optimizing team composition and resource usage based on mission needs.

With the CODE system, unmanned vehicles would continuously evaluate themselves and their environment and present recommendations for actions to the mission supervisor who would approve, disapprove or direct the team to collect more data. Using collaborative autonomy, CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft would find targets and engage them as appropriate under established rules of engagement, leverage nearby CODE-equipped systems with minimal supervision, and adapt to dynamic situations such as attrition of friendly forces or the emergence of unanticipated threats, DARPA stated.

Commanders could mix and match different systems with specific capabilities that suit individual missions instead of depending on a single UAS that integrates all needed capabilities but whose loss would be potentially catastrophic.

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“Just as wolves hunt in coordinated packs with minimal communication, multiple CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft would collaborate to find, track, identify and engage targets, all under the command of a single human mission supervisor,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager in a statement.

DARPA said it will hold two meetings March, one to discuss developing Open Architecture for CODE and the other for technology interchange. More information can be found at

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