The next stage in the US Department of Defense’s low-cost, retrievable unmanned air vehicles experiment could begin within three months, one industry team working on the project has told FlightGlobal.

Phase 1 of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA's) Gremlins programme is under way and on schedule, says Jeff Herro, senior vice-president of business development at Kratos Defense & Security Solutions’ unmanned systems division.

In March, DARPA released four awards worth a total of $16.1 million toDynetics, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems,Kratos and Lockheed Martin. Kratos has had its first formal review with the agency and is "moving along well", Herro says.

"Phase 1 is more conceptual – it's all the front-end work," he says. "Phase 2, you’re starting to get into the build and demonstration phases of the programme."

The conceptual phase of Gremlins details launch and recovery techniques, low-cost designs and risk mitigation. DARPA will evaluate the four teams’ detailed proposals and then select which will participate in the second phase, which Herro says could take a few years.

DARPA’s concept for Gremlins ties into the DoD's third offset strategy, which envisions a future force of robots, hypersonics and inexpensive, swarming UAVs. Under the programme, a swarm of limited-life UAVs would be released and recovered by a Lockheed Martin C-130 transport aircraft. However, the agency has left room for industry teams to select a different recovery platform.