UAS & Robotics

Pentagon wants teamwork out of drones

Global Hawks close formation

U.S. drones carrying out surveillance or attack missions generally have had free reign in the skies above Afghanistan, Iraq and other hot spots, but the military expects that to change as airspace and the electromagnetic spectrum become more contested.

So the Pentagon wants to develop unmanned vehicles that can work autonomously and in tandem to help each other carry out more dangerous and difficult missions.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will get the effort going April 11 with a proposer’s day for its Collaborative Operations in Denied Environments (CODE) program, which wants to give existing unmanned aircraft the ability to share sensor and other operational data, help each other perform missions, and be controlled by a single operator regardless of platform.

As much use as drones have been for the military in recent decades, “most of the current systems are not well matched to the needs of future conflicts, which DARPA anticipates being much less permissive, very dynamic, and characterized by a higher level of threats, contested electromagnetic spectrum, and re-locatable targets,” the agency said.

Under CODE, the aircraft would be able to provide each other with navigational and targeting information, as well as protect each other by dodging or overwhelming opposing defenses.

The program defines four critical technology areas:

1. Single-vehicle autonomy that allows a vehicle to manage its own subsystems and navigate itself.

2. A human-system interface that lets a single mission commander simultaneously handle drones built on multiple platforms, maintaining situational awareness, defining and directing a mission and monitoring its progress.

3. Team-level autonomy that gives aircraft a common view, enabling collaboration on mission objectives.

4. An open architecture that enables the multi-platform operation of aircraft and the sharing of information.

CODE’s goal of “collaborative autonomy” would make unmanned aircraft more effective and cut costs by allowing them to function together without duplicating their capabilities into a single platform, DARPA said.

The likelihood of resistance to drone missions in future conflicts is something the military has started to plan for. The Army, for example, is looking to develop a Counter Unmanned Aerial System in anticipation of adversaries using drones against U.S. forces. The Defense Department also is emphasizing developing electronic warfare skills that could help the services operate in contested spectrum environments.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

Defense Systems Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.