DARPA awards Gremlins Phase 2 contracts
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded phase two contracts for its Gremlins programme to two teams led by Dynetics and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the agency announced on 15 March.
DARPA's Gremlins programme envisions volleys of low-cost, reusable UAS - dubbed 'gremlins' - that could be launched and later retrieved in mid-air by 'aircraft carriers in the sky'.
Under the now complete first phase of the programme, the feasibility of airborne UAS launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification to the host aircraft was shown. Under phase two, research seeks to complete preliminary designs for full-scale technology demonstration systems, as well as develop and perform risk-reduction tests of individual system components.
Scott Wierzbanowski, DARPA program manager, said: 'We're aiming in phase two to mature two system concepts to enable 'aircraft carriers in the sky' using air-recoverable UAS that could carry various payloads—advances that would greatly extend the range, flexibility, and affordability of UAS operations for the US military.'
Phase three goals include developing one full-scale technology demonstration system and conducting flight demonstrations involving airborne launch and recovery of multiple gremlins. Flight tests are currently scheduled for the 2019 timeframe.
The programme envisions multiple types of military aircraft (bombers, transports, fighters, and small UAS) launching groups of UAS while out of range of adversary defences. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.
DARPA expects that the gremlins' expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable unmanned systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional manned platforms.
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