The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency released this artist’s rendering to help explain what its Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program could do. (DARPA image)

The U.S. military is preparing for a series of meetings that could shake up how the Pentagon flies its fleet of drone aircraft and move them toward hunting together in packs.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will host the gatherings in March for its Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program, it said this week. The major emphasis: Figuring out a way to move free of having a pilot operate only one drone with assistance from a sensor operator and a team of intelligence analysts through satellite links.

“Just as wolves hunt in coordinated packs with minimal communication, multiple CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft would collaborate to find, track, identify and engage targets, all under the command of a single human mission supervisor,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, the program’s manager, in a statement.

DARPA officials said the CODE program would use a combination of software and algorithms to “extend the mission capabilities of existing unmanned aircraft well beyond the current state-of-the-art.” It also would allow drones to operate in areas in which electronic warfare might be used against them or they might be shot down, officials said.


A U.S. Predator drone is shown here in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Massoud Hossaini/AP)

A “Proposer’s Day” for the CODE program was held in April. In an explanation provided beforehand, DARPA officials said that while military drones have been successful over the last 25 years, the current systems would be vulnerable in the future.

Among the goals: Develop the ability for one mission commander to control numerous drones at one time, develop flexibility so drones in an area can communicate and protect each other, and geo-locating possible targets with powerful sensors and guiding less capable systems within their own ranges.