The Pentagon and engineering consultancy Dynetics have published footage showing how US C-130 transport planes could work as airborne aircraft carriers capable of launching and recovering unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Gremlins is an air-recoverable reusable platform enabling an array of technologies to be taken into the operational field and collaborate with one another,” a narrator says in the newly released video. Each UAV is approximately as big as a small cruise missile, according to Task and Purpose.
The technologies include “jam-resistant” communications from one UAV to another, a 60-pound sensor on each Gremlin, autonomous flight and the ability to self-navigate in areas where it may be difficult to communicate with a human director.
While the video depicts Gremlins deployed from the multimission C-130, the Huntsville, Alabama-based contractor claims that hordes of selectively recoverable Gremlins can be delivered from fighter aircraft and strategic bombers as well.
This capability would have to be tested after the full demonstration of the different technologies on which the program relies. In March 2017, Dynetics said that the 12-month, $21 million contract it had received for “phase 2” would result in a technology demonstration similar to the above video. Last week, DARPA announced the program was “on track.”
Individual Gremlins have been launched and recovered from the C-130 during flight, as evidenced by the video. In order to capitalize on the “swarm” aspect of the program, DARPA said it needs to be able to launch and recover four Gremlin UAVS within 30 minutes.
The Gremlins could be deployed with the US Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, or Navy; basically any service that flies planes, since DARPA says the Gremlins could be integrated into many types of aircraft without any modifications to the host aircraft itself. “Modularity has made Gremlins attractive for potential transitions partners” across different military branches, DARPA said.
In December, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems President David Alexander told USNI News he could envision Gremlins deploying from Predator B/Reaper combat UAVs. According to DARPA, each Gremlin can carry between payloads up to 150 pounds. So far, the demonstrator Gremlins have only carried 60 pounds of electronic sensor equipment.