Air Platforms

DARPA awards Phase 2 contracts for Gremlins programme

20 March 2017

Teams led by Dynetics and General Atomics have been downselected for the second phase of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Gremlins swarming, recoverable unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) programme.

Two other Phase 1 contractors - Lockheed Martin and Kratos Defense & Security - missed out on Phase 2 awards. However, Kratos retains an interest in the project through the participation of its Composite Engineering Inc (CEi) subsidiary in the Dynetics team.General Atomics displayed its Gremlins concept at AFA 2016. (IHS Markit/Geoff Fein)General Atomics displayed its Gremlins concept at AFA 2016. (IHS Markit/Geoff Fein)General Atomics displayed its Gremlins concept at AFA 2016. (IHS Markit/Geoff Fein)

First announced by DARPA in 2015, the Gremlins programme is seeking to demonstrate the safe and reliable aerial launch and recovery of a swarm of UASs capable of employing and recovering diverse distributed payloads in 'volley' quantities. The concept envisages the launch of a 20-strong UAS 'swarm' from a C-130 aircraft, with the unmanned aircraft capable of a 300 n mile (556 km) transit to the area of operations, one hour on station, a return transit of up to 300 n miles, and mid-air recovery into the C-130.

The estimated price target for a Gremlin UAS is about USD700,000 per air vehicle, excluding payloads, for 1,000-unit order quantities once in production. The current intention is to reuse each air vehicle about 20 times.

Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, Kratos, and Dynetics received Phase 1 award contracts in late March 2016. Under these contracts, all four have undertaken system architecture and design studies to develop a conceptual Gremlins system design, analyse aerial launch and aerial recovery methods, refine operational concepts, and perform demonstration system design and plan for potential future phases.

"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 in a statement. "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."

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