Sierra Nevada Corporation Selected to Participate in DARPA Gremlins Program Phase III
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has formed a team of companies and organisations with the mission to create a device that has the capacity to recover drones in flight. This will be the third phase of the Gremlin program, which is running on a budget of $38.6m for a period of 21 months. The entire Gremlins program is slated to last for 43 months and is valued at $64m.
This is the program that seeks to create low-cost, expendable, limited lifetime systems that can be used about 20 times. With reduced payloads, maintenance and airframe costs, the U.S. military also wish to be able to retrieve the UAS’, thereby improving operational flexibility at a much lower cost than today’s long-life unmanned aircraft.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been selected by DARPA for the final phase of the program, which will send drone swarms from US military aircraft out of reach of enemy air defense.
SNC will provide the Gremlin-designed drones with an autonomous docking system, which will allow C-130 military transport aircraft to seize drones in flight at the end of their mission.
Then the aircraft will transport the drones to the air base where they will be prepared for a new flight within 24 hours.
Aeronautical corporation Dynetics participated in SNC’s selection for the third phase of the Gremlin program. Dynetics has designed the docking device that will be installed on the C-130. It is this mechanism that will recover the drone in flight to go up in the compartment of the C-130.
“SNC’s past success with autonomous UAV supply and the necessary navigation accuracy was enough to achieve the goals set by Dynetics during the implementation of the Gremlin program,” said Greg Cox. Senior Vice President of SNC.
It is Kutta Technology, a subsidiary of SNC, which will prepare the user interface and mechanisms necessary to support UAVs. This company will be responsible for developing a control station to ensure a safe flight between launch and preparation for another flight.
“Work on the Gremlins program leverages Kutta’s previous experience with safe, supervised-autonomous vehicle control, coordinating multi-vehicle surveillance, and agent-based, manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T),” said Kutta’s Chief Operating Officer, Doug Limbaugh.
“SNC’s past accomplishments with autonomous refueling and precision navigation were a perfect fit for what Dynetics planned to accomplish on the Gremlins program. Once the two companies came together to discuss how to leverage SNC’s technology, both recognized an opportunity to help make the Dynetics team even more competitive,” said Greg Cox, senior vice president of business development and technology for SNC’s Electronic and Information Systems business area. “I don’t believe anyone questioned that SNC would be an outstanding partner to add to the team. I know we were certainly excited about joining a group as dedicated as Dynetics.”
SNC joined the Dynetics Gremlins team following completion of Phase 1 of the Gremlins program. DARPA selected two out of the four teams before the commencement of Phase 2, which served as an evaluation for final down select to a single team to demonstrate capabilities in Phase 3.
“It doesn’t take much to recognize SNC as an industry leader in precision navigation,” said Mark Miller, Dynetics’ Gremlins program manager and vice president of Missile & Aviation Systems Division. “With the many challenges surrounding airborne recovery, Dynetics wanted the best expertise and experience for the navigation and docking operations, and that’s exactly what we get with SNC.”
In early May, DARPA announced that the Co-Executives’ cooperation had successfully tested the Gremlin technology during flight tests on the Yuma Polygon. It’s a safe bet that the drone launch program from an airplane and their preparation for a new mission will be completed by the end of 2019.