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Recently shown budget documents reveal that the US Navy is currently working on ways to build, deploy, and control thousands of small drones that are able to flock together to overwhelm anti-aircraft defenses with sheer numbers.
With no time to waste the US Navy has already made considerable progress in this area. In 2017, it demonstrated a swarm of 30 drones flying together. The idea is that the drones carry explosive warheads for kamikaze attacks, making them into miniature cruise missiles. The same approach has been used by Russia against Ukrainian cities in recent days. According to technologyreview.com, the project, named LOCUST (for “low-cost UAV swarming technology”) now falls under the bigger Super Swarm mission.
The Navy’s plans in the budget document include swarms launched from ships, submarines, aircraft, and ground vehicles, in what they term “multi-domain operations.” The drones will have a variety of payloads: some might carry sensors, some will have jammers or other electronic warfare gear, and some will have warheads. But drone swarms still struggle with the problem of limited range.
The Navy also wants a more sophisticated control system. Super Swarm already includes cooperative planning and allocation of tasks to swarm members, and another sub-project, known as MATes (for manned and autonomous teams), aims to make it easier for humans and swarms to work together and give the swarm more autonomy. If all the Super Swarm projects come together, a US naval force will be able to launch massive swarms to travel long distances, carry out detailed reconnaissance over a wide area, and find and attack targets.
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