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The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) has developed an innovative batch of swarming drones and a new way to launch them. The rocket-like launcher can send out the swarm drones in quick succession, only for them to regroup and get into formation when already in the sky. In the video below, you can watch ONR’s demonstration of the project, which is part of the Navy’s Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) programme announced last year.
The LOCUST project is meant to exploit the power of large numbers to its advantage. Like its Biblical namesake that plagued the Egyptians, LOCUST is intended to “autonomously overwhelm an adversary” in offensive or defensive operations. And the mission profiles LOCUST fits are varied. The launcher’s small size allows for firing of UAVs from a variety of locations, like ships, vehicles, and even aircraft.
Up in the air is where the really impressive stuff happens. Besides regrouping, the drones can communicate and transmit information to other swarm members, which allows for collaborative tactics performed completely autonomously. However, as per Pentagon doctrine, a human operator will be involved, monitoring the swarm to take over when needed.
“This level of autonomous swarming flight has never been done before,” said last year ONR programme manager Lee Mastroiann. “UAVs that are expendable and reconfigurable will free manned aircraft and traditional weapon systems to do more, and essentially multiply combat power at decreased risk to the warfighter.”
Of course, one of the great advantages of drone swarms is that they’re incredibly hard to take out. Shooting down one drone is tricky business, but a swarm of them? That’s a whole different matter. Take a look at the video to see what we mean.