DARPA’s vision for the future of warfare calls for inexpensive drones, and lots of them. On Apr. 14 the Office of Naval Research released this video of their Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program that is making just the kind of drone that DARPA alluded to in late March.
In a press release, the ONR said that the LOCUST program has been conducting a variety of tests in the past few months. LOCUST uses the Coyote UAV, a drone-missile that can be launched en masse from a tube launcher. Once airborne, the ONR says these drones “autonomously overwhelm an enemy.”
The swarms of cheap drones can be outfitted with different payloads for defensive and offensive purposes. The primary role of such a drone, DARPA acknowledges, would be to soak up enemy fire and cause an adversary to waste resources while trying to fend off the incoming UAVs.
From a military standpoint, such drones are a good alternative to more expensive fighter aircraft. As ONR program manager Lee Mastroianni noted, “UAVs that are expendable and reconfigurable will free manned aircraft and traditional weapon systems to do more, and essentially multiply combat power at decreased risk to the warfighter.”
These swarming drones are able to communicate and share information with each other, which allows for the them to collaborate autonomously. “This level of autonomous swarming flight has never been done before,” said Mastroianni.
The ONR was quick to point out that this technology is not completely autonomous, saying that, “while the LOCUST autonomy is cutting edge compared to remote-controlled UAVs, there will always be a human monitoring the mission, able to step in and take control as desired.”
In 2016, the ONR plans to test the LOCUST program at sea. The program has designed a versatile drone launcher, which could be installed on ships, vehicles, aircraft, or even other drones.