DARPA's Gremlins program, which has overseen swarms of drones being launched out of cargo planes, is now looking to expand its drones' capabilities and lifespans by testing retrieval and rearmament mid-air, reported Military.com.
The hope is that the Gremlin drones will be able to be deployed, recovered, and rearmed directly from and on the U.S. Air Force's cargo planes. The rearmament part includes being able to add new payloads onto the recovered drones, including swarms of smaller drones or munition, before launching them off onto new missions.
The next phase of the testing for the Gremlins program will take place from October to November, as Air Force Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, deputy commander of Air Mobility Command told Defense News in a Q&A session.
In March, as part of the Gremlins program, DARPA tested mid-air launches and landings from a converted C-130 aircraft of X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicles (GAV), which didn't see any GAVs able to land back into the plane — falling just inches short of the target. Instead, the drones landed safely back down to Earth using parachutes.
This next set of tests in fall hopes to see the GAVs landing back onto the C-130 for rearmament.
With future warfare tactics firmly in mind, DARPA and the Department of Defense are focusing on drones and drone swarms, so as to maximize efficiency and minimize costs. Although, it has to be said that these specific drones have been used for this purpose specifically because they are not cost-heavy UAVs, meaning they're relatively expendable.
"[The military wants] to be able to deploy and retrieve a volley quantity, which is approximately 20 of those aircraft," Steve Fendley, president of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division, said to Military.com.
"That will evolve this year. I think you're going to see the Gremlins really be a high-focus item for the Defense Department moving forward because it's kind of the third leg of that attritable capability set," he continued.
The other two legs Fendley is referring to are Kratos' UTAP-22 "Mako" and Valkyrie drones.
The upcoming fall tests will be interesting to follow, as you watch the future of warfare being trialed right in front of your eyes.