DARPA wants to transform airplanes into drone carriers. Last year, the agency invited technical ideas and business expertise to help create a reusable airborne system. Today, it announced the launch of the Gremlins program that's designed to make that air-recoverable unmanned system a reality. According to Dan Patt, program manager at DARPA, the "goal is to conduct a compelling proof-of-concept flight demonstration that could employ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other modular, non-kinetic payloads in a robust, responsive and affordable manner."
Bots that could be deployed and recovered mid-air are expected to boost the military's operational flexibility and drive mission costs lower. As per the DARPA statement, the program aspires to launch gremlins or swarm bots from large aircraft such as bombers or transports after some modest modifications. When those planes are out of range, the bots will be launched from smaller, more accessible fixed-wing platforms. After completing their mission, the gremlins will be retrieved by a C-130 transport aircraft and brought home, where they will be prepped for their next mission within the next 24 hours.
[Image credit: DARPA]