The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently submitted an official solicitation on the Federal Business Opportunities website to explore the possibility of constructing a flying aircraft carrier designed to launch and recover squadrons of small unmanned drones.
“DARPA is interested in exploring the feasibility of small UAS airborne launch and recovery approaches for providing distributed airborne capabilities from existing air platforms. The agency envisions a large aircraft that, with minimal modification, could launch and recover multiple small unmanned systems from a standoff distance.”
The new project, called Distributed Airborne Capabilities (DAC), is the aerial version of DARPA’s Hydra Project, which aims to create a network of undersea platforms designed to deploy multiple aerial and underwater drones. In contrast, DAC involves the conversion of existing aircraft into larger flying platforms that will carry squadrons of drones capable of rapid launch. The drones themselves will be modified according to the strategic vision set forth by DAC. Instead of large, bulky drones fitted with an array of expensive hardware, DAC drones will be small and light in nature, with a focus on carrying out combat and surveillance missions quickly. The ultimate goal appears to be the swift, anytime-anywhere deployment of multiple squadrons of small drones that can work collaboratively to fulfill a variety of missions. Candidate aircraft currently under consideration include the B-52, the B-1 and C-130.
These smaller drones are also part of another DARPA program called Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) that hopes to develop squadrons of drones capable of matching the “needs of future conflicts, which DARPA anticipates being much less permissive, very dynamic, and characterized by a higher level of threats.” CODE is estimated to cost $54.3 million (for now) whose implementation will end in 2018.
Given the research interests of DARPA, it’s becoming increasingly evident that automated warfare will be the future of combat. Let’s just hope the tables aren’t turned on us, and that cooler
artificially intelligent heads will prevail.