US demonstrated ''swarming'' of micro drones in October: Pentagon

10 January 2017

The US Department of Defence (DOD) said it had conducted one of the largest demonstrations of ''swarming'' micro drones in October at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. The Pentagon announced the demonstration on 9 January, the day after it featured on the CBS news programme 60 Minutes, which was granted exclusive access to the test.

The 10-ounce, tandem-wing Perdix was designed by the engineering students of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 2011. The drone was modified for military use by MIT Lincoln Laboratory beginning in 2013, according to the announcement. The design is now in its sixth generation.

The trial was conducted by the Pentagon's Stategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and the Naval Air Systems Command in October and was one of the DOD's first such demonstrations using teams of small autonomous aircraft. The test confirmed the air vehicle design under potential deployment conditions during ejection from a fighter's flare dispensers.

The Perdix was first launched by Air Force pilots from F-16 flare canisters at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in September 2014. A year later 90 Perdix operations, which included land and maritime surveillance missions, were flown during the US Pacific Command's Northern Edge exercise in Alaska.

Meanwhile, the DOD giving ''60 Minutes'' exclusive access to document a test of autonomous drones, and then using the Pentagon-friendly segment to promote the new technology, had raised questions of ethicality of collaboration between the US military and the supposedly independent CBS programme.

''The test, conducted in October 2016 and documented on Sunday's CBS News programme '60 Minutes', consisted of 103 Perdix drones launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets,'' states the DoD. ''The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.''

The DoD statement went on to state: ''The '60 Minutes' segment also featured other new technology from across the Department of Defence such as the Navy's unmanned ocean-going vessel, the Sea Hunter, and the Marine Corps' Unmanned Tactical Control and Collaboration programme.''

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