The term “science fiction” has been losing its meaning ever since the US’ Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) started to develop a new drone system.
Called the “Gremlin” program, these low-cost, reusable unmanned air systems (UAS) have been developed to be retrieved and reused while still in mid-air. Although the concept of reusing drones is not a new one, the program seeks to deploy the drones from one location and then retrieve them from a different one.
This would effectively enable the military’s massive C-130s to retrieve them in mid-air after a mission, and then allow ground crews to perform maintenance on them so that they would be capable for another one within 24 hours.
The Gremlin’s projected 20-uses would provide huge savings to the military — considering their low-cost factor would make them expendable. Compared to the bulkier and costlier drones in the fleet which are designed to be used for over 10 years, the loss of a Gremlin from inclement weather or being shot down is theoretically negligible.
Having to lose a few units during a mission seems to be expected by the US military, as they plan on sending them in swarms to retrieve data and intelligence from the drone’s camera and sensors.
So far the program is in Phase 1, which is to provide a proof-of-concept flight demonstration that includes air recovery of multiple Gremlins. Going forward, researchers also plan on trying to maintain a low-profile to prevent extensive modifications for the existing planes that would be housing them, such as bombers, carriers, fighters, and other fixed-wing aircraft.
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