Prototype Navy drones swarm like locusts

The days of enormous, singular UAVs directly controlled by remote pilots may be coming to an end. Over the last few years, there's been a lot work towards developing smaller drones capable of autonomously coordinating their actions, much like insects do. Now, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is taking these lessons and applying them to military uses, such as its new LOCUST (Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology) program. It utilizes a rocket tube launcher filled with lightweight, self-guided Coyote UAVs that team up and overwhelm enemy aircraft like honey bees defending their hive.

Using a bunch of smaller, coordinated drones rather than a single big one offers a number of advantages to the military. For one, replacing even hundreds of disposable drones is way less expensive than losing a $16 million MQ-9 Reaper. Plus, having the drones coordinate among themselves reduces the need for on-location operators. The LOCUST program will of course still ultimately be controlled by humans, but they'll perform a supervisory role rather than actually piloting the UAVs.

The LOCUST program successfully completed a series of initial test launches last month. Up next: a "2016 ship-based demonstration of 30 rapidly launched autonomous, swarming UAVs," ONR program manager Lee Mastroianni said in a statement. And over the next decade or so, the ONR hopes to deeply integrate these highly-autonomous UAV systems like this into numerous naval platforms -- from small ships and tactical vehicles to aircraft and even other, bigger drones.