The U.S. Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) launched a swarm of 103 Perdix micro unmanned air vehicles from three F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft during a recent West Coast test, the Pentagon said Jan. 9.
A video released by DoD shows Perdix UAVs completing a series of missions, including flying together in a straight line, a horseshoe and a circle. By communicating and collaborating with each other, “the micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing,” the Pentagon said in a statement. The swarm showed it “can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team,” added William Roper, SCO’s director.
The demonstration, which occurred in late October at China Lake, Calif., is considered one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms. SCO envisions that swarms of surveillance-conducting Perdix drones could be launched from flare dispensers to allow a fast-moving fighter to search areas it would have trouble checking out otherwise.
“This is the kind of cutting-edge innovation that will keep us a step ahead of our adversaries,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who created SCO in 2012. “This demonstration will advance our development of autonomous systems.”
Roughly the length of a man’s hand, the propeller-pushed Perdix was designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering students and modified for military use by scientists and engineers at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Each UAV has an endurance of more than 20 minutes, according to DoD.
The October test, which included Naval Air Systems Command, “confirmed the reliability of the current all-commercial-component design under potential deployment conditions — speeds of Mach 0.6, temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius, and large shocks — encountered during ejection from fighter flare dispensers,” the Pentagon statement says.
SCO is working with the military services to transition Perdix into existing programs of record, the Pentagon said. The office is also partnering with the Defense Industrial Unit-Experimental (DIUx) to find companies that can mass-produce Perdix in batches of up to 1,000.
SCO is not the only defense entity promoting swarming technology. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has been conducting swarming demonstrations with unmanned boats and small, ship-launched UAVs. A recent Defense Science Board report recommends developing a swarm of 10 or more UAVs to serve as a “support team” to ground troops.