The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has completed the Phase I of its Gremlins programme.
The Gremlins programme has been launched to provide the US forces with enhanced operational flexibility at affordable costs.
The programme envisions providing the US forces with the ability to launch groups of unmanned aerial systems (UASs) with coordinated, distributed capabilities from a host aircraft and be able to retrieve them in mid-air when they complete their mission.
As part of the programme, DARPA is currently seeking to explore launch and recovery techniques, equipment and aircraft integration concepts, as well as low-cost, limited-life airframe designs.
The initiative also focuses on high-fidelity analysis, precision digital flight control, relative navigation and station keeping, DARPA stated.
DARPA programme manager Scott Wierzbanowski said: “The Phase I programme showed the feasibility of airborne unmanned aerial system (UAS) launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification to the host aircraft.
“We’re aiming in Phase II to mature two system concepts to enable ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’ using air-recoverable UASs that could carry various payloads-advances that would greatly extend the range, flexibility, and affordability of UAS operations for the US military.”
The programme has now moved into Phase II, with the award of contracts to two teams, one led by Dynetics and the other by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
Phase II of the programme will focus on the completion of preliminary designs for full-scale technology demonstration systems, as well as to develop and perform risk-reduction tests of individual system components.
Additionally, Phase III involves developing one full-scale technology demonstration system and conducting flight demonstrations involving airborne launch and recovery of multiple gremlins.
Flight tests are expected to begin in 2019.
Image: A rendering of the UASs. Photo: courtesy of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.