DARPA has awarded Phase 1 contracts for its Gremlins program, which would employ an airborne mothership to launch and recover groups of small unmanned air systems (UAS), or “gremlins,”according to a release from the agency. The low-cost, reusable UAS would act in a distributed, coordinated manner, and be capable of carrying out a range of missions. DARPA’s goal is to provide improved operational flexibility to U.S. forces over conventional platforms, and at a lower cost.
After completing their mission, the gremlins would be recovered in mid-air by a C-130 Hercules, which would then carry them home to be prepared for the next mission within 24 hours.
“We’ve assembled a motivated group of researchers and developers that we believe could make significant progress toward Gremlin’s vision of delivering distributed airborne capabilities in a robust, responsive and affordable manner,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager. “These teams are exploring different, innovative approaches toward achieving this goal and are rolling up their sleeves for the hard work ahead.”
The Phase 1 contracts have been awarded to:
- Composite Engineering, Inc. (Roseville, California)
- Dynetics, Inc. (Huntsville, Alabama)
- General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (San Diego, California)
- Lockheed Martin Corporation (Dallas, Texas)
Phase 1 of the Gremlins program is intended to explore several technical areas in working toward a proof-of-concept flight demonstration involving air recovery of multiple gremlins, according to the release. These include:
- Launch and recovery techniques, equipment and aircraft integration concepts
- Low-cost, limited-life airframe designs that leverage existing technology and require only modest modifications to current aircraft
- High-fidelity analysis, precision digital flight control, relative navigation and station keeping
Fighter aircraft and other small fixed-wing platforms could also employ the small UAS, launching them from stand-off distances out of range of sophisticated air defenses. After completing their mission, the gremlins would be recovered in mid-air by a C-130 Hercules, which would then carry them home to turn them around for the next mission within 24 hours. The gremlins would be expected to have a lifetime of about 20 missions, filling a niche between expendable systems that are “thrown away” in one use and conventional platforms that have higher mission and maintenance costs over their lifetime of decades.