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Reconnaissance missions to collect enemy information no longer require large UAVs. A small, disposable drone that fits inside a shell that looks like a cluster bomb has been developed by defense contractor Northrop Grumman. The flight test of the new drone, dubbed Remedy, was conducted in October.
When an F/A-18 combat jet drops the fake munition, the drone would pop out, unfold its wings and fly into enemy territory, undetected, to collect data on enemy positions. The demonstration showed that the unmanned plane could share sensor and intelligence data with manned aircraft.
Once the capsule is released, the drone would be pulled out by a parachute, unfold its 12-foot wings, and power up a small, wooden propeller. Remedy has a 10-hour flight time, at 69 knots.
According to defenseone.com, engineers anticipate completing the research and development in 2019. The Office of Naval Research is a partner on the program, as is a small engineering outfit called VX Aerospace, a composites manufacturing and design company.
That size is rather small and that pace incredibly slow for military aircraft, which is part of the point. The plane’s slowness makes it look like a bird to many types of military radar. “When you think about how military [radar] systems are designed, they are designed to shoot down tactical jets. You build into radars gates that take away things like birds,” said John “JJ” Thompson, the campaign director for Northrop’s airborne C4ISR division. The drone is supposed to fly high enough to avoid enemies with small weapons, but low and slow enough to evade radar.
In theory, a Remedy could be outfitted with weapons and turned into a slow but highly maneuverable missile. But the military’s interest right now is in equipping it with sensors and cameras for intelligence and reconnaissance, said Thompson.
“We’ll send in these as a swarm. They’ll begin to do search patterns for where we believe — in this general area is — this object that we are searching for. Could be [searching for] theater ballistic missile, long-range engagement radar, short-range engagement radar,” he said.
The research program has much in common with the Gremlins project, a DARPA effort to build small drones that can be launched and retrieved in mid-air. It’s all part of the military’s push for more human-machine teaming. The concept emphasizes the use of robotics and artificial intelligence, mostly in support of manned jets and human operators.
See more on the DARPA project in this article