DARPA wants an army of drones to overwhelm the enemy

US air warfare superiority has always been a constant, but the nation's pricey, complex new fighter jets can't dominate the air if they can't get there. Even the military's science arm, DARPA, said that "US military systems today are often too expensive... (and) are obsolete by the time they become operational." Ouch. But DARPA is at least doing something about the problem. It's developed a project called the System of Systems Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) with the aim of nothing less than completely overhauling US military air power. To do that, it wants to build open systems that help drones, missiles, "mission truck" planes and fighter jets work together.

The idea is so simple, you have to wonder why they didn't do it before. In one scenario (see the video below), a modern fighter is accompanied by an unmanned, C-130-sized "mission truck" in an attack on enemy radar systems. The larger plane would stay outside the attack zone, but carry loads of extra missiles and drones to increase the fighter jet's punch.


It would first release special UAVs that jam the radar station targets to avoid being shot down and simultaneously relay intelligence about them back to the warfighter. From there, the pilot could come up with a targeting solution and fire a bevy of small, cheap cruise missiles from the mission truck. The enemy would be forced to engage with expensive long-range surface-to-air missiles and may even shoot a few down. However, some of the cruise missiles would break through the shield and eventually destroy the target.

The whole system would require minimal input from the pilot, thanks to computers onboard the fighter and mission truck. DARPA's plan is to supplement existing system capabilities with open-systems architectures that would yield "interchangeable modules and platforms that can be quickly upgraded and swapped out as needed." If it works, the military would be able to upgrade current manned and unmanned tech faster and for less money. At the same time, it would force the enemy to spend a lot more money to counter with traditional systems.

DARPA compared the idea to smartphone technology and apps. According to the project leader, "you don't need to buy a new smartphone every time an app comes out... (SoSITE) will build the 'under-the-hood' verification and cyber-defense capabilities so airborne platforms can host interchangeable 'app' functions." It's already started the project in earnest by awarding contracts to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and others.