Drones, Swarms At War

Using drones in areas of conflict is not something new. As commercial drones get easily affordable, we see it all the time in the news, some soldier using a Parrot drone to scout ahead, above trenches or around buildings. That’s a new reality that soldiers have to get used to. It changes the battlefield, especially traditional ground warfare. There is also research in drone swarms, performing tasks in team for some time now. Some of them are really impressive.

And then there’s the U.S. Military Perdix drones. William Roper of the Department of Defense illustrate what exactly their capabilities are:

Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature. Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.

Did we mention they can be released in mid-flight by a F/A 18 Super Hornet? That’s no piece of cake for any drone but Perdix is able to withstand speeds of Mach 0.6 and temperatures of -10 °C during release. In the latest tests conducted, three jets released a massive swarm of 103 Perdix drones, which after deployment communicated with each other and went on a simulated surveillance mission.

The Department of Defense announced the successful Micro-Drone demonstration and presented a video:


Scary stuff… after watching that video there was only one phrase that came to mind: Resistance is Futile.

[via MIT Technology Review]

45 thoughts on “Drones, Swarms At War

  1. There is no way they are hardened enough to be used effectively against a modern adversary, but I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of a rabid rag-head if gear like that was being deployed against them.

    Then again if you had some other, more stealthy, way of deploying them they may not get noticed and swatted out of the sky before they completed their mission. e.g. That big vertical thrust fan in the f-35, if you don’t install it and use a standard take-off, you have a very big compartment that could be filled with an entire hive of drones with different capabilities.

    1. They’ve got ~30 drones per fighter, I don’t see any reasonable way to ‘swat’ that number out of the sky before they have the chance to complete their mission.
      Even if they’re just Kamikaze drones, it’s just like MAD, you have to be right every time, they just need to get by once.
      Why mod the F-35? That’s completely nonsensical.
      Basically any other air frame meant for strategic bombing could be used. Any cargo air frame would be way better & cheaper than removing integral parts of another air frame. Imagine, an AC-130 raining down 105’s or 20mm auto cannon while a couple pallets of these guys get shoved out the tail. Even a CH-47 could pack enough to do damage, in addition to a couple squads of troops.

      1. Yeah well being gormless you would think that, but do you even know what I mean by “hardened”? I can swat a million drones out of the sky in one swipe if they are not hardened, the number is irrelevant. As for the rest of your gibberish, did you misunderstand the term “stealthy” too?

        1. >>Yeah well being gormless you would think that, but do you even know what I mean by “hardened”? I can swat a million drones out of the sky in one swipe if they are not hardened, the number is irrelevant.

          Every other drone system seems to work just fine flying over hostile territory. Why would they use a different system since this one has worked so well. The system has been developed over the past decade it’s sufficiently hardened. You keep harping on vaporware ‘fusion powered’ weapons systems, and when they get here that may matter, but to date the best reactor has barely gotten more out than in, and only for a couple seconds before they had to shut down. Fusion has been 20 years away for the past 40 years, you might want to stop holding your breath, I think it’s affecting your faculties.

          >>As for the rest of your gibberish, did you misunderstand the term “stealthy” too?
          I’ll repeat myself since you seem to have glossed over my response:
          “Why mod the F-35? That’s completely nonsensical.
          Basically any other air frame meant for strategic bombing could be used.”
          F-117, B-2, F-22 all have stealth capabilities without the need to gut systems and all fit into the broad ‘any other air frame’ category.
          If you really want to use the F-35 whenever it finally gets to service, there’s already a conventional take off ‘A’ and carrier ‘C’ versions. Neither have the spot where the ducting is in the ‘B ‘ version, for various reasons relating to the roles they’re intended to fill.

          1. ITER in France have a Tokamak that they expect will produce more power than it uses. It’s due to start up pretty soon. Nuclear fusion is great in theory, there’s just been a lot of practical problems to solve. That’s what all those experimental reactors were working on. It’s just a very big engineering problem. Definitely worth pursuing.

          2. I don’t mean to suggest we shouldn’t pursue fusion, I’m just that arguing against the opinion that ‘oh this tech is useless because of fusion powered directed energy weapons’. Well, yes, perhaps it will be, but we’re a very long way away from anything approaching them.
            Modern fusion barely breaks even, and if everything goes ITERs way, they’re still the equivalent of the Chicago Pile, there’s a long way to go from research reactor to a shipboard reactor capable of firing directed energy weapons or hypersonic slugs from a railgun.

      2. Sending big, slow aircraft like an AC-130 in enemy territory requires absolute air superiority and no enemy SAM systems on the ground, as they would have it for breakfast… so it’s only good against goat fuckers…

        As for destroying/disabling the drones – I remember that quite a while ago, a large Israeli-made radar with an active phased array (5000 elements) was successfully tested as an EM weapon, the crapton of T/R modules can transmit at very considerable continuous power (10s of kW) and being a phased array, it can focus the beam, making it a very effective and fast way of frying cheap drones before they can attempt anything…

        OR – anti-drones :D

      3. Not to sound like a dick but none of the 3 active AC130 variants have a “20mm”. AC-130U has a 25mm GAU12/U. Secondly, AC130s fire from a lot higher altitude/speed than they would be opening the ramp at. You’d have more luck retrofitting the MQ-1s or MQ-9s with a specific pod for releasing/receiving data from the swarm.

        1. Is that speed a limitation of the air frame hardware? Or more due to the parachute or paratroopers, too much shock kills your troops and breaks their supplies. Since these things are robust enough to get dropped out of a pod at 450 mph I don’t think there’s much concern for them.
          As for altitude, I don’t see how that would play a role in when you can open the ramp? It may be 20kft higher than normal cargo drops, but that seems like it may be beneficial for flight time in this case.

    2. “Rabid rag-head” huh? So that’s it then, the hideous racist morons of the Trumpreich are gonna take Hackaday now too? That’s a shame, I’ve really enjoyed having a site where I can actually venture into the comments section without just ASSUMING I would run into racial epithets tossed casually about. I guess that’s too much to expect anywhere these days…

      It’s all kinds of extra horrible that an ignorant narcissistic toddler will soon be at the helm of these military drone swarms, but I guess extra horrible is just standard fare of late.

      1. You yanks are at war with IS, aren’t you? I think a little name-calling at the enemy is fine. And I’m sure they call you worse…
        It’s not racism if it’s only directed at the enemy. If it’s directed at middle-easterns living in the US, then it’s racism.

      2. Really? Gonna start your virtue signalling on HaD? Carry a rifle for your country much? I suppose those nice fellows with rags on their heads and firing RPG’s down alleys into random traffic don’t deserve a name like rabid rag-head?

        Now I’ve strained myself. I’ll be in my safe space, getting baked.

      3. It’s only fair to point out that YOU are the one who made the political statement, and had to make a fuss over someones use of words you don’t like. I’m not saying its right, I’m not saying it’s wrong, those are opinions. What is not an opinion is that YOU, Ryan, are the problem in the comments section, not Dan. If nothing else, you fell for that bait HARD. At worst, you are a whining liberal who can’t help but turn EVERYTHING into a political argument because you don’t have anything intelligent to contribute to the conversation. This is HaD, not Politic-a-Day, so make a constructive comment or kindly show yourself out.

        Dan – Interesting idea, but as others have said, probably not practical for reasons of logistics. Of course you could slightly modify your idea to just make the F-35s the drones. That would be fun.

  2. #t=1m52s

    But seriously. In flight release is pretty impressive.
    I look forward (from a technological standpoint) for the days when High Altitude Airships or Platforms have armed versions of these swarms ready to deploy at a moments notice.

    1. Yeah because they will be really handy at fighting off rail gun projectiles and hyper-sonic cruise missiles, not! What are you going to use them for, stopping pigeons from pooping on your blimp?

      1. Imagine a swarm of drones flying close to the water and then popping up and suicide attacking a radar array. Then warships or surface to air sites would be susceptible to more conventional attacks without being able to strike back effectively.

        1. LOL, no at sea there is only the horizon to hide behind and that is a long way away, How are these little toys going to have enough range to cover that distance fast enough? Unless you launch a hive from from a submarine in a torpedo or missile form and that then did a rapid deployment close in to the target, but even if they get in close they are still going to get fried if they aren’t hardened. With a maser or laser you can scan the sky as fast as you like, so if there is enough energy in the beam, fzzzt, multiplied by as many little targets as you like. You simply can’t physically overwhelm a directed energy weapon if it is electronically scanned and powerful enough, and by powerful I am thinking of the fusion reactors that Lockheed are working on. The energy levels are going up an order of magnitude in weapons systems, so most technologies simply can’t handle the velocities and kinetic or electromagnetic energy levels these new systems can deploy.

          1. You underestimate the uses of a weapon. Deliver by big drone or cruise type “missile”. Put small shaped charge devices on the drones. Spread a couple hundred in the path of a ship. They can target electronic infrastructure and anything else where they will do any good (OpenMV application). Spread them like mines on floaty things and wait for ships. Spread them above/beside a mountain or building where bad guys use cover. How well does a trained person do against more than one bee at a time? This is a (not unexpected) game changer.

            The defensive market I can see is Aramid fiber anti-drone nets, sticky string to old school barrage balloons, are carried aloft by your own drones. A projectile from something like a mortar tube that spins out vast amounts of carbon fiber that can tangle props, and EMP counter-measures. None of which will be had by a bunch of jihadis recuperating from the fun of dividing up all the women after murdering all the males in a village.

      2. >>What are you going to use them for

        I just think the concept of an aerial carrier is a cool one. My Sci-Fi fantasies went wild for a few seconds. Like I said, a -version- of these may be useful. Given that they’d be based on a large craft, they could be more substantial, and likewise more substantially armed. Like their naval counterparts aerial carriers would have to be part of a larger battle group if we want to prevent them from being picked off. Though hypersonic missiles will be difficult to track, like every other missile their guidance system will have to sort through the conventional and electronic counter measures deployed by such an investment of resources. As well as active defense measures such as Phalanx & Bulletstorm.

        As for the pigeon problem, a couple airmen with shotguns should do ok. Heck, let ’em roost around, squab for dinner every night!

    1. Imagine those being stationed right above a known enemy position all night. They wouldn’t even have to *do* much of anything to be considered highly effective psychological warfare! All the weaponry that they would need would capsules loaded with any thiol. Between the noise and the smell, ain’t *NOBODY* sleeping tonight!

  3. These seem pretty neat for surveillance. If they work, Expect to see the UK police bulk buying them soon. They’d be a cheap way to put up extra CCTV for a Friday night in town, or to cover a football game (that’s UK football – the players don’t wear armour, and kick a ball, and the supporters bring weapons, and kick your head). I hear CES could have used a little extra CCTV…

  4. so a bunch of bees launched from a super hornet. wonder if this is what the pilot says when they are released……”foxtrot 21 bees away, proceeding to point charlie”. :)

    1. I once shared a cave with a guy named Groom. He talked every morning about “future drone swarms” stealing his idea for something called a “wheel”… very forward thinking guy.

    2. oh man, this is one of my favorite Lem novels!
      A cross between Forbidden Planet and remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. It has this brutalism vibe to it.
      Audiobook version has top of the top Polish actors in it, listening gave me shivers.

    1. Replicators, smater, the thing trying to kill Paul in the beginning of Dune, knife missiles, etc. There must have been some in Dr. Who but I’m not a Whover. SciFi is loaded with them. I can’t think of any more than 70 years old, but I have a feeling that old serials and such must have this idea in them somewhere, which will push back to nearly 100 years.

  5. It sounds like folks are really missing the point of these things.

    In warfare we always have capability gaps. Right now, the abstract convention is “If we can see it, we can kill it”. We’re literally able to put ordnance through a doorway or window, if we know about the window and the target within the room. Now, we have problems in that we don’t know which room, or that the target didn’t leave through another door on the other side of the building. So we have to use “big ordnance”, but we are trending towards smaller ordnance.

    Our gap now is the perceptual gap. How accurately (in time AND space) can I locate my target. Knowing that the guy was occupying a specific square meter of dirt doesn’t do me any good if the position fix is half an hour old. Knowing that the guy is going to be at a specific city block at a very specific time doesn’t do me any good (I don’t like collateral damage).

    This swarm offers an amazing way to generate very specific information in real time or near real time, and it offers tremendous situational awareness (I can look at a building or set of buildings from all sides).

    In an urban operations setting, a swarm of these preceding and/or accompanying an assault, would be an incredible asset. When actually making an entry, we frequently have to detail significant portions of our team just to provide a perimeter. Having this “panopticon” around the location would reduce the number of people I need to leave on the perimeter. In that vein, I’d like to have the option to quiet these down, but I also think the psychological effect of having that noise would be amazing (But i worry about the immediate loss of intel/evidence, as the targets realize they are either getting assaulted or bombed, and start destroying everything).

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