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The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency will begin testing a program to launch and recover small drones from an Air Force C-130 aircraft. DARPA’s Gremlins program deploys a group of small drones carrying a 60-pound sensor payload up to 300 nautical miles.
The drones are able to perform a range of missions, such as testing enemy air defenses and conducting ISR missions for an hour on station before returning to an Air Force C-130, developers said. A key concept of the program is extending the mission range of aircraft, while allowing manned crews to operate at safer distances.
Gremlins moves beyond existing state-of-the-art programs able which are able to launch, but not recover, swarms of mini-drones. The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, an initiative aimed at harnessing near-term emerging technologies for operational use, demonstrated an ability to launch small drones from the flare dispenser of an F-16. While able to blanket areas with ISR and perform significant mission-enhancing functions, they are expendable and not available for re-use.
“For decades, U.S. military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions. Adversaries’ abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well,” said DARPA in a statement.
DARPA has continued its contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to move Gremlins into the next phase of development, an effort which will involve initial testing and evaluations along with a Preliminary Design Review.