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The technology of swarming – drones deployed in squadrons, able to think independently and operate as a pack – is still new, but armed forces around the world are investing large resources in its development. Drone swarms of the future could have the capacity to assess targets, divide up tasks and execute them with limited human interaction.

In the UK, the Ministry of Defense has been advancing its swarm capabilities. An experimental unit dedicated to developing an operational ‘swarming drones’ capability was established by the Royal Air Force. The 216 Squadron will be tasked with bringing the RAF’s “ambitious” swarming drones capability into service and continue its development. 

The technology, originally announced by former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, was due to be in service by the end of 2019; however, the capabilities will now be brought into service in April. Williamson spoke about “swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overcoming enemy air-defence systems”.

A RAF spokesperson told airforce-technology.com: “The Royal Air Force’s ambitious swarming drones project continues to be developed by the Rapid Capabilities Office with the progress during recent trials exceeding expectations in a number of areas.”

According to janes.com, 216 Squadron has been reformed with minimal manning for now.

The near-term timelines and milestones for 216 Squadron and the wider swarming drone capability are currently subject to developments with the ongoing coronavirus emergency.