DARPA and Dynetics working to reusable volleys of Gremline drones by 2019

Dynetics, Inc. has been selected as the top performer for Phase 3 of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Gremlins program. Managed out of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), the objective of Gremlins is to accelerate the ability to perform aerial launch and recovery of volley quantities of low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems (UASs). This capability, once demonstrated and matured, enables a significant expansion of distributed architectures for airborne operations.

DARPA wants to launch and recover a volley of drones and get 20 or more uses of the drones.

DARPA is progressing toward its plan to demonstrate airborne launch and recovery of multiple unmanned aerial systems (UASs), targeted for late 2019. Now in its third and final phase, the goal for the Gremlins program is to develop a full-scale technology demonstration featuring the air recovery of multiple low-cost, reusable UASs, or “gremlins.”

Safety, reliability, and affordability are the key objectives for the system, which would launch groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range from adversary defenses. Once gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

Gremlins also can incorporate several types of sensors up to 150 pounds, and easily integrate technologies to address different types of stakeholders and missions.

The Phase 3 contract is a 21-month, $38.6 million award. The entire program will last 43 months, totaling $64 million.

“Dynetics is very pleased for our Gremlins offering to be selected for the Phase 3 demonstration phase. This contract award is a natural progression of our expansion into providing the Government innovative solutions to solve challenging problems, often under highly accelerated schedules. While we offer prime contractor-like capabilities in several areas, the nature of our company structure and philosophy is well-suited for programs such as Gremlins where innovation, agility and affordability are necessary for success,” said Mark Miller, Dynetics vice president for Missile and Aviation Systems.

The Dynetics solution involves deploying a towed, stabilized capture device below and away from the C-130. The air vehicle docks with the device much like an airborne refueling operation. Once docked and powered off, the air vehicle is raised to the C-130, where it is mechanically secured and stowed. The key technologies can be straightforwardly adapted to allow under-wing recovery and bay recovery by other cargo aircraft.

The Gremlins system also benefits in both contested environments and low-intensity, routine operations. The ability for a single, manned aircraft to stand off from danger yet manage multiple air vehicles equipped with sensors and other payloads lends itself well to enhanced support of tactical strike, reconnaissance/surveillance and close air support missions.

“The unmanned air vehicles utilized in these future operations will carry a variety of different sensors and other payloads, working together to manage and conduct complex, highly-adaptive operations in contested environments,” said Tim Keeter, Dynetics deputy program manager and chief engineer. “When they complete their mission, they return to airborne manned platforms to be recovered to a forward operating base where they can be quickly refurbished and put back into the fight. The potential to overwhelm an adversary continuously with multiple volleys is tremendous.”