The Pentagon says it's going to bring together the best minds in aerospace design this fall to help build a fleet of small, robotic airplanes. These won't be your ordinary unmanned drones, though. Instead, the idea is to launch a veritable swarm of these tiny planes from the back of a much bigger plane.
That's right: The military wants to turn large C-130 cargo planes into makeshift aircraft carriers. And not only will the small drones, known as Gremlins, launch themselves, but they'll also be able to return to the mothership on their own after completing their mission.
Researchers at DARPA — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — put out a call last year for ways to turn this into reality. And on Friday it announced it'll hold a workshop in September for potential "proposers."
Small drones could be useful for any number of applications, according to the military. They could help conduct reconnaissance for ground troops. They could carry bombs or supplies. If need be, they could also be turned into self-propelled missiles — though part of the point is that they'd be more versatile and reusable than as a kind of weapon in themselves.
In fact, Gremlins would offer a kind of middle ground between missile-like disposable weapons and piloted aircraft, which are heavy, expensive and complex.