DARPA's ‘Gremlin’ Drones Can Deploy From A Flying Carrier In Starcraft-Style Swarms

Military Tech

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.

DARPA

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.

The firm behind the Gremlin, Dynetics, is the same one that makes the terrifying and awesome Small Glide Munition which is an ‘enhanced capability, Stand-Off Precision Guided Munition’ that can be deployed by AC-130 gunships — which means they have some serious real-world experience with C-130 deployed payloads. Their Starcraft playing experience is also assumed to be high.

Gremlin Drones in flightDARPA

The inferred low cost and anticipated high number of deployable Gremlins (from the video shows dozens of them operating simultaneously) allows for what DARPA refers to as “Substantial Operational Risk Taking”: drones can go into areas with enhanced integrated air defense where human pilots or even expensive drones such as RQ-4 Global Hawks or the RQ-170 Sentinel would be shredded. But since Gremlins are both expandable and numerous it is a much better proposition to throw them at hard targets first.

The modular nature of the program also means that U.S. service members can configure each Gremlin with different sensor packages on the fly. The airborne recovery technology means they can be snatched out the air by a mothership, which sounds as cool and revolutionary as SpaceX landing rockets or, you know, this:

Blizzard Entertainment

One can only guess what potential future applications DARPA has in mind for air-launched drone systems (an active seeker anti-air drone, perhaps?), but for now the Gremlin system will focus on providing extra intel on the cheap. The Gremlin will make its first flight sometime in 2019 and will most likely annoy Syrian air defenses shortly thereafter after.

A enlisted thinktank brought to you by Task & Purpose

WATCH NEXT:

Sailors from Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 1 conduct category III qualifications on the M2A1 heavy machine gun at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. CRS-1 is qualifying for future mobilization requirements. (U.S. Navy/Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

The Navy is considering giving Ma Deuce a quiet new update.

Read More Show Less
A competitor performs push-ups during the physical fitness event at the Minnesota Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition on April 4, 2019, at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. (Minnesota National Guard photo by Sgt. Sebastian Nemec)

Despite what you may have heard, the Army has not declared war on mustaches.

The Army W.T.F! Moments Facebook page on Monday posted a memo written by a 3rd Infantry Division company commander telling his soldiers that only the fittest among them will be allowed to sprout facial hair under their warrior nostrils.

"During my tenure at Battle Company, I have noticed a direct correlation between mustaches and a lack of physical fitness," the memo says. "In an effort to increase the physical fitness of Battle Company, mustaches will not be authorized for any soldier earning less than a 300 on the APFT [Army Physical Fitness Test]."

Read More Show Less
Task & Purpose

I don't always drop everything to spend a few hours with a short, squat Marine, but when I do, you can bet it's for Chesty.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, consoles a fellow Soldier after sleeping on the ground in a designated sleeping area on another cold evening, between training exercises during NTC 17-03, National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, CA., Jan. 15, 2017. (U.S. Army/Spc. Tracy McKithern)

The Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) is the largest official database of U.S. military media available for public consumption. It is also an occasional source of unexpected laughs, like this gem from a live fire exercise that a public affairs officer simply tagged 'Fire mortar boom.' In the world of droll data entry and too many acronyms, sometimes little jokes are their own little form of rebellion, right?

But some DVIDS uploads, however, come with captions and titles that cut right to the core, perfectly capturing the essence of life in the U.S. military in a way that makes you sigh, facepalm, and utter a mournful, 'too real.'

Read More Show Less

The U.S. military does not need Iraqi permission to fly close air support and casualty evacuation missions for U.S. troops in combat, a top spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS clarified on Tuesday.

Army Col. James Rawlinson clarified that the Iraqis do not need to approve missions in emergency circumstances after Task & Purpose reported on Monday that the U.S. military needed permission to fly CAS missions for troops in a fight.

Read More Show Less