DARPA looking to sling and recover drones from aircraft motherships

DARPA’s “Gremlins” would swarm on a target or reconnaissance mission


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is moving forward with a program that will launch and recover volleys of small unmanned aircraft from one or more existing large airplanes such as B-52s, B-1s or C-130s.

The Gremlins program has as a goal to launch groups of drones or gremlins from large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft, as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms while those planes are out of range of adversary defenses. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours, DARPA said.

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With an expected lifetime of about 20 uses, Gremlins could fill an a need between existing models of missiles and conventional aircraft, DARPA stated.

“An ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems with coordinated, distributed capabilities could provide U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at much lower cost than is possible with today’s expensive, all-in-one platforms—especially if those unmanned systems could be retrieved for reuse while airborne. So far, however, the technology to project volleys of low-cost, reusable systems over great distances and retrieve them in mid-air has remained out of reach,” DARPA stated.

The agency last year put out a Request For Information to explore the feasibility and value of launching and recovering volleys of small unmanned aircraft and Gremlins is the follow on to that request.

DARPA said it now plans to focus on the technical challenges associated with safe, reliable aerial launch and recovery of multiple unmanned air vehicles.

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