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Recent US Army tests have shown that live and virtual drones could work together, with high degrees of autonomy, to complete missions even when their communications and GPS were under heavy electronic attack.

In a test series at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, DARPA’s Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program demonstrated the ability of CODE-equipped Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) to adapt and respond to unexpected threats in an anti-access area denial (A2AD) environment.

CODE software aims to overcome the limitations with new algorithms and software for existing unmanned aircraft that would extend mission capabilities and improve U.S. forces’ ability to conduct operations in denied or contested airspace.

The UASs efficiently shared information, cooperatively planned and allocated mission objectives, made coordinated tactical decisions, and collaboratively reacted to a dynamic, high-threat environment with minimal communication, as reported by darpa.mil.

The air vehicles initially operated with supervisory mission commander interaction. When communications were degraded or denied, CODE vehicles retained mission plan intent to accomplish mission objectives without live human direction. The ability for CODE-enabled vehicles to interact when communications are degraded is an important step toward the program goal to conduct dynamic, long-distance engagements of highly mobile ground and maritime targets in contested or denied battlespace.

During the three-week ground and flight test series, up to six live and 24 virtual UASs served as surrogate strike assets, receiving mission objectives from a human mission commander. The systems then autonomously collaborated to navigate, search, localize, and engage both pre-planned and pop-up targets.

The DARPA team also has advanced the infrastructure necessary to support further development, integration, and testing of CODE as it transitions to future autonomous systems.