Shades of carpet bombing: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) able to “swarm” in a co-ordinated attack are being developed by the US Navy.
This forms part of the US Navy’s Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) programme.
LOCUST can launch swarming UAVs to autonomously overwhelm an adversary. The deployment of UAV swarms will provide a decisive tactical advantage, says the Office of Naval Research.
It’s expected that a ship-based demonstration of 30 rapidly launched autonomous, swarming UAVs will take place in 2016.
“Since the launcher and the UAVs themselves have a small footprint, the technology enables swarms of compact UAVs to take off from ships, tactical vehicles, aircraft or other unmanned platforms,” says a report from Naval Research. Effectively, the drones will be fired from a cannon. According to the Navy, LOCUST includes a “tube-based launcher” that can send UAVs into the air in rapid succession; once aloft, wings unfold and they fly onward. The airborne drones are able to share information, allowing them to collaborate autonomously.
Recent demonstrations of the technology at multiple locations included the launch of Coyote UAVs capable of carrying varying payloads for different missions. Another technology demonstration of nine UAVs accomplished completely autonomous UAV synchronisation and formation flight.
UAVs are said to reduce hazards and free personnel to perform more complex tasks, as well as requiring fewer people to do multiple missions, at lower cost than tactical aircraft. Humans will always monitor missions and take control where necessary, but this breakthrough tech means, according to ONR programme manager Lee Mastroianni, that UAVs that are expendable and reconfigurable will free manned aircraft and traditional weapon systems to do more. Essentially, this will multiply combat power at decreased risk to combatants.
Source: US Navy, Office of Naval Research Communications