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Pentagon Unveils Details On Effort To Equip Its Services With Massive Swarms Of Deadly Drones

The Pentagon’s description of the LCCM project also raises questions about its possible relation to other ONR efforts, including various “Super Swarm” experiments. Last year, that Navy office disclosed it had conducted a “record-setting effort [that] simultaneously launched 1,000 unmanned aerial vehicles out of a C-130 and demonstrated behaviors critical to future super swarm employment” known as the “Close-in Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft super swarm.”

Similarly, the Army is now looking to develop an entire family of air-launched swarming drones with various capabilities as part of its Air Launch Effects (ALE) program. Coyote Block 3, coupled with the other technologies developed under LCCM, certainly sounds like it could have the potential to meet many of the ALE requirements.

In 2017, the same year the Pentagon says work began to build actual air vehicles for the LCCM project, AFRL also initiated its own low-cost swarming cruise missile program, called Gray Wolf. That Air Force effort was canceled in 2019, with the focus shifting toward a related AFRL program, known as Golden Horde, which is developing technologies to enable various munitions to operate as networked swarms. 

Golden Horde flight tests, which began late last year, have been demonstrating capabilities that sound virtually identical to the LCCM’s stated objectives of exploring “networked integrated attacks, in-flight dynamic retargeting/reallocation and synchronized cooperative/saturation attacks.” This is perhaps not surprising since the Pentagon says that this Air Force program will be one of the beneficiaries of the datalink and the autonomy module from the LCCM effort.

The datalink will also be used in “several spiral development programs,” according to the Pentagon. The autonomy software “will transition to the Marine Corps Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle Program of Record and MITRE’s Simulation Experiments along with several Air Force and Navy spiral development programs,” the press release added.

In January, the Marines choose Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark to develop the Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LRUSV), which the company described as a “tiered, scalable weapons system [that] will provide the ability to accurately track and destroy targets at range throughout the battle space,” in a press release. “While fully autonomous, the vessels may be optionally manned and they will carry multiple payloads, which they will be capable of autonomously launching and retrieving,” it continued, adding that loitering munitions would be part of the LRUSV’s arsenal. That specific element of the LRUSV effort sounds very similar in many respects to the Navy’s aforementioned plans to acquire Block 3 Coyotes configured as suicide drones for employment from other unmanned platforms.

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