The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected defence contractor Dynetics and its team of industry partners for the Phase III demonstration award of its Gremlins programme.

The programme has been designed to strengthen the US Air Force’s ability to carry out aerial launch and recovery of a number of low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

The programme focuses on successfully launching groups of drones from large, fighter or small fixed-wing aircraft.

Once their mission is complete, a C-130 military transport aircraft would be deployed to retrieve the gremlins in the air and carry them to the ground crews, who would prepare the air vehicles for their next operation within 24 hours.

The $38.6m Phase III demonstration contract will continue for a period of 21 months. The entire Gremlins programme will last for 43 months and is valued at $64m.

“The unmanned air vehicles utilised in these future operations will carry a variety of different sensors and other payloads.”

Under the demonstration phase, Dynetics will deploy a towed, stabilised capture device below and away from the C-130 Hercules aircraft.

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Once docked with the device and powered off, the air vehicle is raised to the C-130, where it is mechanically secured and stowed.

The Gremlins system enables a single, manned aircraft to stay away from danger while managing several air vehicles equipped with sensors and other payloads, thereby safely supporting tactical strikes, and reconnaissance/surveillance and close air support missions.

Dynetics deputy programme manager and chief engineer Tim Keeter said: “The unmanned air vehicles utilised in these future operations will carry a variety of different sensors and other payloads, working together to manage and conduct complex, highly adaptive operations in contested environments.

“When they complete their mission, they return to airborne manned platforms to be recovered to a forward operating base where they can be quickly refurbished and put back into the fight.”

Dynetics has assembled a team of industry partners who would deliver necessary technologies and capabilities to successfully develop and demonstrate the Gremlins system.

Of them, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems will lead the fabrication, assembly, integration and test of each Gremlins air vehicle, while the Sierra Nevada (SNC) – Salt Lake City group will deliver the precision navigation system to engage and dock the air vehicle with the C-130 jet.