Armed forces around the world are looking to machines to change how wars are won. Inside the War Fighting Lab, the Marine Corps is developing remote-controlled land-based robots and aerial drones that operate in teams; the United States Army is building robotic medics that can tend to soldiers and rescue them from the battlefield; and DARPA’s Gremlin drones are being designed to take off from and return to a “mothership” after completing reconnaissance missions.
Not to be outdone by the military’s other branches, the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) has developed swarming drones and a related drone launcher. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be sent into battle in single file, but in quick succession, before grouping into formation as shown in ONR’s new video of the prototype. The project is one part of the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program announced last year.
One drone is intimidating enough, but that effect multiplies as you add more UAVs to the team. According the ONR, LOCUST and the swarming drones are intended to “autonomously overwhelm an adversary” in either offensive or defensive operations, while keeping soldiers at a safe distance. The launchers’ small size allows for the firing of UAVs from ships, vehicles, or aircraft, depending on the mission.
Once in flight, the drones can transmit information to other members of the swarm, which allows for autonomous, collaborative tactics similar to those of the Marine Corps robot-drone teams. And, like the Marine Corps machines, LOCUST and the UAVs will ultimately be monitored by a human who can override their controls if needed.
“This level of autonomous swarming flight has never been done before,” ONR program manager Lee Mastroiann said in a press release last year. “UAVs that are expendable and reconfigurable will free manned aircraft and traditional weapon systems to do more, and essentially multiply combat power at decreased risk to the warfighter.”