California's July earthquakes apparently threw a wrench in DARPA's StarCraft-style drone swarm

Military Tech

VIDEO: DARPA's Gremlins Unmanned Aerial Systems in action

The series of earthquakes that rocked Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California on July 4 and 5 of this year will end up costing the service more than $5 billion to return the essential weapons and aircraft testing facility to mission capable status.

Now it looks like those quakes have foisted a new cost on another service: critical testing time for a mothership-deployed swarm system eerily reminiscent of those damn Protoss carriers from StarCraft.


The War Zone, which first publicized that $5 billion reconstruction cost back in August, now reports that the Air Force's plans to conduct flight tests for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's air-launched and recoverable X-61A Gremlin Unmanned Aerial Systems are facing signifiicant delays due to the damage to China Lake, according to Gremlin manufacturer Dynetics.

"It's limited range access. They've got a lot of damage that's been done," Tim Keeter, Dynetics program manager for the Gremlin UAS, said of the damage China Lake in a recent interview in Air Force Magazine. "They've got a lot of things to take care of in terms of infrastructure before they can support a flight test … like this."

Flight Global, which first reported news of the delayed Gremlin testing in September 2019, noted that Dynetics is "ready to demonstrate the aircraft" by deploying the drones from the wing pylons of Air Force C-130 Hercules recovering them with a mechanical arm extended from the aircraft's rear cargo ramp.

Unfortunately, the July earthquakes "broke a critical piece of testing equipment, called the flight termination system," as Flight Global reports. "This ground equipment is needed to terminate a flight demonstration that goes awry." (I highly recommend this analysis from The War Zone for a more extensive look at the quake damage at China Lake)

A map showing the approximate epicenters of various earthquakes and aftershocks that rocked China Lake between July 4 and 5, 2019, as well as the locations of various key facilities.(U.S. Air Force via The War Zone)

While Dynetics stated that the Air Force may relocate several of DARPA's planned Gremlin testing phases to the Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, it's unclear when new testing might actually take place, although Keeter told Air Force Magazine that the renewed tests might take place as soon as "by the end of the year"

Either way, the delay is an unequivocal bummer for a fascinating system that's been in the works since 2015. The Gremlins are designed to fly in formation and work in tandem to share information and coordinate intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance taskings in contested airspace. Indeed, a swarm of Gremlins could forward-deploy and feed data to F-35 Lighting II aircraft to enhance strike packages and provide support to ground forces downrange.

Also: StarCraft, people. Don't make me say it again.

(Department of Defense)

Actor Mark Wahlberg will be visiting troops overseas to plug Wahlburgers, a fast-casual restaurant chain owned by the actor and his two brothers, Donnie Wahlberg, and chef Paul Wahlberg.

Read More Show Less
From left to right: Naval SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, and Army Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn (DoD photos)

The U.S. military will not disintegrate into an undisciplined horde following President Donald Trump's recent intervention in three war crimes cases, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley assured lawmakers on Wednesday.

Milley was testifying before the House Armed Services Committee when he was pressed by Iraq war veteran Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) about the president's actions in the cases of former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, retired Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, and retired Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher.

Read More Show Less

Taliban fighters attempted to fight their way into Bagram Airfield on Wednesday by invading a medical facility just outside of the base's perimeter, a spokesman for Operation Resolute Support said Wednesday.

J.P. Lawrence of Stars and Stripes and Jim LaPorta of Newsweek first reported that the battle lasted for several hours after using car bombs to attack the hospital, which is near the base's northern corner. Helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft were reportedly used to drop ordnance on the hospital.

Read More Show Less
The welcome sign at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi (Facebook photo)

An armed suspect was taken into custody at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi on Wednesday morning after a brief lockdown period, according to the Texas base's Facebook account.

Though the exact nature of the incident is unclear, base officials wrote that no shots were fired and no injuries were reported.

Read More Show Less
(DoD photo)

Among the dozens of requirements outlined in the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act is the requirement for the Secretary of Defense to create a public database for privatized housing complaints.

So, that will be... a lot.

Read More Show Less