Phase 3 of DARPA's "Gremlins" program: Full-scale demo of multiple low-$, reusable UASs

ARLINGTON, Va. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is making progress toward its plan to demonstrate airborne launch and recovery of multiple low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems (UASs), which it calls its "Gremlins" program.

Now in its third and final phase, in previous segments of the project, the team has focused on risk reduction via extensive modeling and simulation: For example, the team scrutinized how fifth-generation aircraft systems like the F-35 and F-22 respond to threats; the team then looked at how the military could incorporate a group of gremlins in higher risk areas. According to DARPA documents, the gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages by reducing payload and airframe costs and by carrying lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, which are designed to operate for decades. Gremlins can also can carry several types of sensors up to 150 pounds and easily use different technologies on board to meet the needs of various stakeholders and missions.

A recent flight test conducted at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona enabled the Gremlins teams to test safe separation and captive flight of the system's hard dock and recovery system. “Early flight tests have given us confidence we can meet our objective to recover four gremlins in 30 minutes,” said Scott Wierzbanowski, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

DARPA recently awarded a contract to a Dynetics, Inc.-led team to perform the Phase 3 demonstration and is also exploring the possibility of demonstrating different sensor packages with potential integration partners prior to program completion in 2019.

Image credit: Dynetics