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​DOD advances on swarming drone concept

The US Defense Department's Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) is advancing its swarming drone concept, a key asset in the department’s wider third offset strategy.

During a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington this week, DOD Secretary Ash Carter teased news on the SCO’s swarming drones operating on the sea and in the air.

“In fact, this technology took a large step forward this week,” Carter says. “You’ll be hearing about it more in the months to come.”

During his time as deputy secretary of defense, Carter stood up the SCO in 2012 to breath new life into existing platforms within the DOD’s inventory. Last year, the office revealed its Arsenal Plane concept, a standoff system with a large weapons carriage that would support forward aircraft.

SCO director William Roper did not elaborate on the swarming UAV plan, besides telling an audience at CSIS that they would have more to discuss in the months to come. Still, the SCO is keeping its best ideas behind the door, Roper says.

That could indicate that the SCO’s swarming concept will not be Perdix, which Roper spoke about at length to reporters earlier this summer. The palm-sized, expendable UAV springs out of a fighter jet’s chaff dispenser and flies low to capture video. The forward and rear wings fold to fit inside the flare cannister, with a propeller to push the vehicle forward.

“We’ve designed it for speed and all weather but the numbers are numbers we protect because they tell you about the capability,” Roper told reporters this summer. “Part of the reason for building a Perdix is to try to give the commanders a bit of a surprise about what a big aircraft can do.”

During missions in more contested environments, the fighter pilot could choose to remove the Perdix and keep the flares on the aircraft, Roper says.

“If you’re out fighting a terrorist organization that’s hiding under terrain features, you’re probably not as worried about having chaff and countermeasures,” he says. “But you may be more concerned about ISR assets getting down under difficult to see overhanging structures.”

The SCO tests Perdix on an almost monthly basis and the video is transmitted to a ground control station which monitors the UAV. The SCO would like the Perdix to transmit information to the cockpit, but the office does not want to ask the US Air Force or Navy to fund that capability until the UAV is proven, Roper says.

“So we’re designing with the future in mind, but not making anything difficult up front,” he says.

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