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US Office of Naval Research demonstrates swarming UAVs

16 April 2015

The US Office of Naval Research (ONR) has released details of its swarming unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) programme, a key element in its LOCUST project.

A LOCUST UAV at launch (left) and deploying (right).  Image extracted from YouTube video below

Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) can launch swarming UAVs to autonomously overwhelm an adversary, giving military personnel a decisive tactical advantage.

"The recent demonstrations are an important step on the way to the 2016 ship-based demonstration of 30 rapidly launched autonomous, swarming UAVs," says ONR programme manager, Lee Mastroianni.

The LOCUST program includes a tube-based launcher that can send UAVs into the air in rapid succession. The technology then utilises information-sharing between the UAVs, enabling autonomous collaborative behaviour in either defensive or offensive missions. 

Since the launcher and the UAVs themselves have a small footprint, the technology enables swarms of compact UAVs to take off from ships, tactical vehicles, aircraft or other unmanned platforms. 

The ONR demonstrations, which took place over the last month in multiple locations, included the launch of Coyote UAVs capable of carrying varying payloads for different missions. Another technology demonstration of nine UAVs accomplished completely autonomous UAV synchronisation and formation flight.

ONR officials note that while the LOCUST autonomy is cutting edge compared to remote-controlled UAVs, there will always be a human monitoring the mission, able to step in and take control as desired.

"This level of autonomous swarming flight has never been done before," says Mastroianni. "UAVs that are expendable and reconfigurable will free manned aircraft and traditional weapon systems to do more, and essentially multiply combat power at decreased risk to the warfighter."

UAVs reduce hazards and free personnel to perform more complex tasks, as well as requiring fewer people to do multiple missions.

Lowering costs is a major benefit of UAVs as well. Even hundreds of small autonomous UAVs cost less than a single tactical aircraft - and, officials note, having this capability will force adversaries to focus on UAV swarm response.

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