The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is preparing to develop small unmanned aircraft that will launch from an airborne C-130 military aircraft. Dubbed “Gremlins,” each of the drone s will feature a 60-pound payload consisting of various sensors, with a maximum range of 300 miles.
The Gremlin drones won’t be used for attacking land and/or air-based targets, however. Instead, they will be used to probe air defenses and collect data; thus, allowing the military’s manned aircraft to operate at a safer distance. When speaking about the project, DARPA explained that the United States’ enemies have improved their ability to detect aircraft at long distances. In response to these technological advancements, the military is developing new counteractions, one of which is the Gremlin program.
This isn’t the first time the United States military has launched drones from an aircraft. What makes the Gremlin drones different, however, is the fact that they can be recovered and reused, giving the military a huge advantage.
“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 is developing the Gremlins drones with the help of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The two organizations are preparing to move the project into the next phase of development, which will include real-world testing and analysis, as well as a review of the Gremlins design.
Of course, the Gremlin drones won’t last forever. According to DARPA, a typical Gremlin drone will last for about 20 uses. With that said, 20 uses is still an impressive feat considering the heavy toll that flight and recovery has on the drone.
Once airborne, the Gremlin drones will have enough power to scan the air for about an hour before needing to return back to its “mothership.” DARPA says the Gremlin drones will work in conjunction with the Air Force’s massive C-130. However, they will also work with other aircraft, including transport jets, fighter jets, fixed-wing aircraft and more. Once the drones are recovered, they’ll be placed in a hanger for repairs and upgrades. The general idea is to improve the cost-efficiency of unmanned aerial missions — a task that should be appropriate for the Gremlin drones.
While there’s no official time or date announced for the project’s completion, DARPA expects the Gremlin drones will be ready for use in 2019.