DARPA
Artificial Intelligence

The “Gremlins” Are Coming!—Meet DARPA’s New Air-Launched Drones

Paving the way for the development of a new era of reusable unmanned vehicles.

Phase 1 Is a Go

While drone technology has crept up to the civilian market, with multiple modifications made for the tech-savvy consumer, large scale drone research is still firmly in the hands of the military. DARPA is at the forefront of this, with multiple research programs into the military use of drones.

Now it’s at it again, developing another milestone for the boys in green.

DARPA has awarded Phase 1 contracts to several companies who will attempt to make the “Gremlins” program a reality. They now have the challenge of creating a system of reusable unmanned vehicles that can launch from bigger aircraft like bombers or jets.

In particular, four companies have been selected: Lockheed Martin, Dynetics of Alabama, Composite Engineering, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of California. The companies are tasked with using their technical genius to conjure up launch and retrieval techniques, low-cost airframe designs and develop the drones’ navigation system and digital flight controls.

Learn more about DARPA in the video below:

Packing Heat

The Gremlins program, revealed last year, seeks to show the feasibility of conducting safe, reliable operations involving multiple air-launched, air-recoverable unmanned systems.

The goal of the program is to have bombers or transport aircraft launch groups or swarms of reusable unmanned vehicles called gremlins for intelligence and reconnaissance purposes. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air, and then return to base where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

Gremlins are expected to last 20 uses, and may also launch from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms when bombers are out of range.

Such air-launched drones are primarily a cost-reducing program, bridging the gap between missiles that are one-use only, and reusable systems that are costly to maintain. The program aims to prove that such systems could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems, spreading out payload and airframe costs over multiple uses instead of just one.

The Gremlins program is named for the imaginary, mischievous imps whom World War II airmen blamed for the frequent mechanical woes that beset their planes.

No word yet as to what happens if you feed them after midnight.

 

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