The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has downselected two companies to progress with its Gremlins 'aircraft carrier in the sky' programme, it announced on 15 March.
Dynetics, Inc. and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) have been contracted to continue development of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can be launched and recovered from a host 'mother ship' aircraft. Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. and Lockheed Martin were the other two companies contracted under Phase 1 of the programme.
"The Phase 1 programme showed the feasibility of airborne UAS launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification to the host aircraft," said Scott Wierzbanowski, DARPA programme manager, adding, "We're aiming in Phase 2 to mature two system concepts to enable 'aircraft carriers in the sky' using air-recoverable UASs that could carry various payloads -advances that would greatly extend the range, flexibility, and affordability of UAS operations for the US military."
The Gremlins programme envisions launching groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft - including bombers, transport, fighters, and small, unmanned fixed-wing platforms -while out of range of enemy defences. When the UASs complete their mission (slated to be mainly reconnaissance), a Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and return them to base, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours. The UASs expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable unmanned systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional manned platforms, DARPA said.
Further to the requirement to launch and recover from a host aircraft, the Gremlin UAS should be able to fly out to a range of 482 km (300 miles) loiter for an hour, and return to the C-130.
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