DARPA contract for drone swarm technology goes to Dynetics

By Patrick C. Miller | April 25, 2018

Dynetics Inc. has been awarded a 21-month, $38.6 million contract for phase three of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Gremlins program.

Based in Huntsville, Alabama, Dynetics will provide technologies and capabilities to develop and demonstrate the Gremlins system, which launches and recovers a swarm of low-cost drones from a military aircraft. This capability enables a significant expansion of distributed architectures for airborne operations. The $64 million program will last 43 months.

Dynetics’ solution involves deploying a towed, stabilized capture device below and away from the C-130 cargo aircraft used to launch and recover the drones. The unmanned aircraft docks with the device—similar to an airborne refueling operation. Once docked and powered off, the drone is raised to the C-130, where it is mechanically secured and stowed. According to Dynetics, the technologies can be adapted to allow under-wing recovery and bay recovery by other cargo aircraft.

“This contract award is a natural progression of our expansion into providing the government innovative solutions to solve challenging problems, often under highly accelerated schedules,” said Mark Miller, Dynetics vice president for missile and aviation systems.  “While we offer prime contractor-like capabilities in several areas, the nature of our company structure and philosophy is well-suited for programs such as Gremlins where innovation, agility and affordability are necessary for success."

DARPA’s Gremlins system is useful in both contested environments and low-intensity, routine operations. This ability enables a single, manned aircraft to stand off from danger while managing multiple unmanned aircraft systems equipped with sensors and other payloads to support tactical strikes, reconnaissance, surveillance and close air support missions.

"The unmanned air vehicles utilized in these future operations will carry a variety of different sensors and other payloads, working together to manage and conduct complex, highly-adaptive operations in contested environments," said Tim Keeter, Dynetics deputy program manager and chief engineer. "When they complete their mission, they return to airborne manned platforms to be recovered to a forward operating base where they can be quickly refurbished and put back into the fight. The potential to overwhelm an adversary continuously with multiple volleys is tremendous."