The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Watch Perdix, the secretive Pentagon program dropping tiny drones from jets

The Pentagon released this unclassified video to The Washington Post that shows micro-drones being released from an F-16 fighter jet moving at 430 mph. (Video: Department of Defense)

The Pentagon’s secretive Strategic Capabilities Office has been testing micro-drones that can be dropped from moving fighter jets for nearly two years — and for the first time, there is video to show it.

The Pentagon released a 2014 clip of the program’s testing to The Washington Post and allowed the newspaper to photograph the one-pound aircraft in an office setting after the director of the Strategic Capabilities Office, William Roper, agreed to a rare interview. It marks one of the first times that images of the micro-drones have been released, and underscores the unusual ways in which the Defense Department is considering incorporating unmanned aircraft.

The video released to The Post shows a flare canister falling after being released from an F-16 fighter jet over Alaska. A tiny parachute slows its fall until the canister breaks open, releasing the drone inside. Another video reviewed by The Post, but not yet released, shows the micro-drones flying in packs of at least 20.

[Veil of secrecy raised on Pentagon office planning ‘Avatar’ fighter jets and drone swarms]

The program is named Perdix, after a character in Greek mythology who was changed into a partridge by the god Athena. It costs about $20 million — less than the price of a single fighter jet — and calls for SCO to figure out a way to launch drones from fighter jets, with all the constraints that might entail.

“There are a lot of what would seem like unfuturistic considerations that are the biggest drivers of that program,” Roper said. “It’s not like there’s a trunk in the fighter where ‘Oh, we’ll just put these in the trunk and kick it out.'”