The Office of Naval Research (ONR), whose Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program has been experimenting with flying swarms of small unmanned aerial vehicles, plans to begin integrating payloads on such drones next spring or summer, ONR’s leader said Oct. 25.

The follow-on effort, tentatively called LOCUST II, will try to show that multiple UAVs with both similar and different payloads can operate together, said Rear Adm. Mathias Winter, chief of naval research. Winter hopes to demonstrate the payload integration in a year or two.

Raytheon's Coyote small unmanned aerial system (UAS). Photo: Defense Daily.
Raytheon’s Coyote small unmanned aerial system (UAS). Photo: Defense Daily.

“The science there is mostly the control algorithms to make that happen,” he told Defense Daily after speaking at the Unmanned Systems Defense conference in Arlington, Va.

ONR, which has indicated that UAV swarms could conduct surveillance and precision strike and overwhelm an adversary, is weighing what types of payloads to integrate.

“We’re thinking about those,” Winter said. “But we will definitely be spanning industry, academia and government for the best performers.”

ONR has already shown it can launch multiple UAVs from a ship. In a recent demonstration in the Gulf of Mexico, a total of 33 Raytheon [RTN] Coyote UAVs were tube-launched in less than three minutes from the R/V Sea Fighter (FSF-1) ship. The UAVs showed they could “form up, fly, break off, engage, come back, fly and then land on shore,” Winter told the conference audience.

ONR also continues to work on swarming unmanned boats. A recent demonstration on the Chesapeake Bay involved four swarming boats and “multiple interlopers and unscripted participants,” Winter said. The swarming boats showed they could take offensive action and defend high-value assets, he added.

Winter also revealed that ONR plans to take ownership of the Sea Hunter unmanned ship prototype from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) later this year or early next year. Developed by Leidos [LDOS], the vessel is currently in San Diego.

“I’m looking for ideas from industry, academia and other government agencies on how best to use this facility,” Winter said. ONR is looking at “integrating sensor payloads, classified and unclassified, for undersea and surface [missions], as well as air engagement.”

DARPA has been using the technology demonstration vessel for its Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program. The agency announced Oct. 24 that it recently tested Sea Hunter with its Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS), which deploys a parachute to allow a ship to carry communication and intelligence-gathering payloads at relatively high altitudes.