Swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles overwhelming enemies’ defenses with sheer numbers might soon be part of the US combat strategy. Footage of the first flight of one such drone has just been showcased by a Pentagon contractor.
A video published on YouTube by an applied science and IT company, Dynetics, shows a drone, which looks roughly like a large air-to-surface missile, being drop-launched from under the wing of a US transport Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The drone designated X-61A then releases small wings and ignites its rocket engine, setting off for an autonomous flight. Media reports suggested that the UAV stayed in air for an hour and a half while the video shows it performing some simple maneuvers during its first test flight, which took place in November 2019.
X-61A is part of Pentagon’s Gremlins program launched the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) back in 2016. It aims at providing the US military with swarms of relatively cheap and recoverable unmanned aerial vehicles, which are expected to have coordinated distributed capabilities.
According to DARPA, such drones should be launched from bombers, transport aircraft, or even fighter jets while they are still out of range of a potential adversary’s defenses, and then perform the usual tasks assigned to drones and ranging from reconnaissance to air strikes, while overcoming enemy’s defenses due to their quantity alone.
Those drones that live through their mission are expected to be retrieved mid-air by the likes of C-130 Hercules via a special mechanism. Although, the video showcased by Dynetics does not demonstrate anything of the sort so far.
Dynetics is, however, not the only one working on the Gremlins project. According to DARPA, other contracts were awarded to Composite Engineering, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, and Lockheed Martin Corporation.
Apart from that, Pentagon’s own Strategic Capabilities Office has also been working on a similar technology for quite some time. Its swarms of Perdix micro drones drop launched from F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters were tested as early as in 2016.