Robotic segregation: drones acquire drones
A drone that could die
History develops cyclically. More recently, combat Droneswhose main task is to save the lives of military personnel. First drones came to Aviation. First, the notional value of a pilot's life is very high, and human replacement robot relevant here as nowhere else. Secondly, winged drones perform routine and long-term reconnaissance operations much better than manned aircraft. And now, finally, it's time for aerial robots to acquire their own unmanned servants. A sort of segregation among automated systems, suggesting that the cheapest models will be sent to the most dangerous work. Expensive and more advanced drones play the role of control and basing centers.
One of the last to announce the idea of launching drones from other drones was the Americans from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. Last fall, they unveiled the Sparrowhawk, which uses the MQ-9 Reaper as the big brother of the Reaper. The calculation is simple - the shock Reaper carries a couple of stealthy drones under its wings, which are sent to areas where enemy troops are concentrated. First of all, they are saturated with air defense systems. It is no secret that the army is increasingly emerging with means of detecting and destroying even such relatively small devices as the MQ-9. That is why Sparrowhawk is needed - to replace his older brother where it has become dangerous for him to work. The length of the "sparrowhawk" is 3,35 meters, the wingspan is 4,27 meters, the flight duration is at least 10 hours for a distance of more than 800 km. The device of the Sparrowhawk power plant is remarkable. This is a hybrid plant based on a gas turbine that spins a generator. The direct mover is two electric fans powered by a generator. There are lithium-ion batteries on board, allowing you to pass part of the route almost silently. The developers claim that a drone with such an engine is capable of accelerating to 278 km / h.
The junior drone is able to conduct reconnaissance, carry out electronic suppression, create a decoy target for enemy air defense, and also strike at ground targets. Of course, a small apparatus, which itself resembles a cruise missile, cannot accommodate much weapons. Therefore, the plans are to use the Sparrowhawk as a loitering ammunition, optionally equipped with a warhead. If a worthy target is not found in the area of responsibility, the "sparrowhawk" can return and dock under the wing of the carrier drone. And this is where the fun begins. General Atomics developed and demonstrated an unusual small drone return system this summer. As a carrier, the MQ-9B Skyguardian marine is used, which ejects a multi-meter cord with an orange ball at the end from the underwing pylon. The next thing is the autonomous Sparrowhawk technique, which, with the help of two flaps, first grabs the cord, and then fixes the ball like an anchor. Everything is done, you can orient the wing along the fuselage and return to the carrier drone.
The birth of the concept
The idea of air-to-air drones is not new. The United States developed the concept of winged "gremlins" based on manned aircraft six years ago. If Sparrowhawk is saved by an older, more expensive drone, then small X-61A Gremlins drones are already protecting people. Dynetics has been developing small-sized drones for several years in the interests of the DARPA agency. The X-61A can be launched from almost any flying platform - from the F-16 to the C-130. In the hold of a transport aircraft, for example, there can be up to 20 drones. "Gremlins" perform exactly the same functions as "Sparrowhawks" - reconnaissance, suppression, creation of false targets and, if necessary, the destruction of ground targets.
Unlike sparrowhawks, X-61A Gremlins are ready to swarm in the sky, exchange information and operate in a networked artificial intelligence mode. The method of returning to the flying base is also different - the docking node with the mother cord is very similar to the air refueling system. It is not entirely clear how long it will take for the C-130 crew to retrieve all 20 Gremlins back. However, if this is impossible or the carrier aircraft flies off to an unattainable distance, the drones will softly land with parachutes. In addition to manned vehicles, the authors of the project consider drones of the type mentioned above as Reaper as carriers. The X-61A is powered by a Williams F107 turbofan engine, which somewhat limits its flight time to just 3 hours, but delivers a decent speed of 0,8 Mach. The device can take on board up to 68 kg (with a total weight of 680 kg) and fly with them for almost 1000 km. The authors of the project declare "Gremlin" a resource of only 20 flights. According to the latest data, the development is now in the process of development tests, and the decision on adoption by the Pentagon has not yet been made.
It seems that the United States Army has seriously decided to develop the theme of junior drones for its own Air Force. In addition to the X-61A Gremlins and Sparrowhawk projects, DARPA announced the launch of the Long Shot competition earlier this year. The participants were the real giants of the American arms business General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Despite the original name of the programs LongShot or "Long Shot", it is much more correct to call it "Matryoshka". In theory, a manned aircraft, such as the multipurpose F-35, carries a drone, which, in turn, is armed with missiles. Given the ever-expanding capabilities of ground-based aircraft destruction, the Americans are very afraid for their equipment and pilots. In fact, it is enough for a carrier aircraft of the Long Shot project to take off from an airfield (aircraft carrier) and launch a drone armed with air-to-air missiles at an altitude of several hundred meters. The upcoming B-21 Raider bomber is also being considered as a potential carrier. An important advantage of this approach is the complication of the enemy's task in evading a strike. The drone can stealthily approach the target and fire a missile in close proximity, which will seriously reduce the reaction time - the plane simply will not have time to make an evasive maneuver. It seems that this is becoming a new concept for the use of aviation - all manned aircraft will turn into carriers of drones for remote strike. As Paul Calhoun, Project Manager says:
At the moment, no workable prototypes have been built, companies are practicing illustrations and primary research. It is not entirely clear how the vehicles will return to their base. Will the developers provide an air dock or just use a parachute? Or are the missile carriers themselves a consumable and doomed to die after the first attack?
The evolution of weapons cannot be stopped, and projects with further robotization of everything and everything will grow like mushrooms. And in the USA, in China, and in Russia. But such a technique, based on communications, becomes very vulnerable to interception and electronic suppression. In particular, the US military is heavily dependent on its own GPS system. In case of suppression of global positioning or physical destruction of even some of the satellites, a lot of American weapons will turn out to be a heap of metal. This "pain point" of the Pentagon is very well known to both Moscow and Beijing. Nevertheless, the United States is accelerating the development of means of warfare that are even more dependent on radio electronic communications for navigation. Moreover, the weapon is not designed at all for the war with the banana republics, but with a well-equipped enemy. A paradox that, of course, must be taken into account by potential opponents of the United States.
Subscribe and stay up to date with the latest news and the most important events of the day.