In an effort to develop reusable UAS that can be launched and later recovered in midair, DARPA has awarded Phase 2 contracts of its Gremlins program to two teams; one led by Dynetics, Inc. and the other led by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
The goal of the Gremlins program, which is named after the good luck charms of British pilots during World War II, is to develop UAS that can be launched in groups from different types of military aircraft, while they are out of range of adversary defenses. The groups of UAS would be launched from military aircrafts such as small fixed-wing UAS, bombers and fighters.
Once the UAS complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would recover them in the air and take them home, where ground crews would work on them so that they’d be ready for use in the next 24 hours.
“We are very pleased and excited that DARPA selected our Gremlins design,” says Dynetics’ Gremlins program manager Mark Miller via UASWeekly.com. “This opportunity expands previous work we have performed developing and rapidly fielding air-launched systems and leverages our creativity and agility.”
“Our goal is to not only successfully complete the Gremlins demonstration for DARPA but to also help eventually transition this capability in some form to the warfighter.”
Dynetics was one of four competing companies that was awarded a contract during Phase 1 of the program, which saw the company successfully design concepts for flight demonstration for a number of areas, including low-cost limited airframe designs, launch and recovery techniques and precision digital flight control.
“The Phase 1 program showed the feasibility of airborne UAS launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification to the host aircraft,” says DARPA’s program manager Scott Wierzbanowski through press release.
“We’re aiming in Phase 2 to mature two system concepts to enable ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’ using air-recoverable UASs that could carry various payloads—advances that would greatly extend the range, flexibility, and affordability of UAS operations for the U.S. military.”
Gremlins are expected to have 20 uses during their lifetime. Some of the advantages of these UAS will be a reduction of payload and airframe costs compared to expendable UAS, and they will also lower mission and maintenance costs in comparison to conventional manned aircraft.
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