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DARPA hosting final drone swarm demo in November, companies look for service buy in

Shown here is an image of Northrop Grumman participating in DARPA's OFFSET programme. Both Northrop Grumman and Raytheon BBN will attempt to have a single operator control 200-plus ground and aerial drones during a November demo. (Northrop Grumman)

The US Department of Defense (DoD) may be focused on finding technologies to down aerial drones, however, its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is also working with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon BBN on ways a single operator can control hundreds of ground and aerial drones at once. While this developmental effort has been ongoing for years, it is scheduled to culminate in November when both companies head to Fort Campbell in Kentucky for a field experiment where each entity will test out their respective technologies.

Under the agency's Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) programme, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon have been working as β€˜swarm system integrators'. In this position, they have been developing the architectures, interfaces, and their own swarm tactics exchanges – this houses tools to help design swarm tactics by composing collective behaviours, swarm algorithms, and existing swarm tactics – to enable a single person to operate hundreds of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) drones at once.

DARPA has hosted various technology demonstrations over the past few years to include one at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington in 2020, where the companies were asked to have one person control 100 unmanned vehicles. The agency is asking them to double this figure for an event that will run from 1 November until mid-month.

To operate additional drones and prepare for this event, Northrop Grumman changed its communications approach, and is using a mesh network, according to Erin Cherry, senior technical programme manager for Northrop Grumman's OFFSET programme.

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