The U.S. Military Could Soon Have the Ultimate Weapon: A ‘Flying’ Aircraft Carrier

    Task and Purpose, Brad Howard

    Security, North America

    Thanks to some new technology and a C-130.

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, often referred to as the mad science wing of the Pentagon, announced on May 9 that it plans on debuting its revolutionary Gremlin Unmanned Aerial System sometime in 2019. And much like the carrier classic military science fiction franchise StarCraft, defense contractor Dynetics designed the Gremlin to launch and recover from a flying mothership — in the case of the U.S. military, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

    The system is truly innovative as far as drones go, effectively turning a C-130 into a flying aircraft carrier. While each deployable Gremlin drone on its own about the size of a small cruise missile launched and recovered using a slick Batman-style grappling hook, DARPA says its single C-130 can currently operate four drones at a time, all which are recoverable within 30 minutes at the end of a mission.

    But in the long term, Gremlin drones should be deployable by any aircraft with a pylon or rotary launcher — which is almost all of them.

    Indeed, these little suckers were designed to work in tandem, flying in formation and using networked data-links to share information and coordinate intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance taskings in contested airspace. And since they’re air-launched, a swarm of a dozen Gremlins could forward deploy ahead of strike packages (by, say, feeding data to F-35 Lighting IIs and further enhancing a commander’s view of the battlespace, eliminating the fog of war) or on short notice missions to do things like support a special operations team deep behind enemy lines.

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