Northrop Grumman (NG) is working on a drone that can be placed inside the shell of a cluster bomb that will spring into action after being dropped from a fighter jet or bomber. The drone will fly, undetected, behind enemy lines as it collects and transmits information back to its base. It will then crash and destroy itself.
Called "Remedy", this US military drone system has been under testing since late October, noted Defense One (DO). The first demonstration carried out by NG showed that the drone, which is inside the shell, can communicate and share data with the manned aircraft out of which it will be dropped.
The next stage of testing, the report noted, will be to demonstrate Remedy's ability to unfold and take flight mid-air.
The drone is expected to be ready for production by 2019, after completing all stages of research and development.
The future of drones in battle need not be one where a pilot remotely flies a massive unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) hundreds of kilometres into enemy airspace, fires missiles at targets, and then flies it back to base, the DO report noted.
Large drones, like the Reaper, are expensive and not always very stealthy. Remedy, on the other hand, is designed to be disposable, and is small and agile.
This project is being handled by the the US Office of Naval Research and a smaller engineering firm called VX Aerospace, along with NG.
"The issue with unmanned airframes is, for all their advantages, how do you get something this small 400, 700 miles away from an aircraft carrier?" said John "JJ" Thompson, campaign director for Northrop's airborne C4ISR division.
Remedy will be deployed out of the 'fake' bomb after it is released from a military aircraft using a parachute. Its two, 12-foot long wings will then fold out, and the drone will be powered by one motor, using a small wooden propeller. Each drone will have 10 hours of flight time, flying at nearly 130 kmph, according to the report.
While that seems really small and slow, especially when one considers the supersonic drones that are in the works, Thompson said that is exactly how Remedy has been designed. A craft this small and slow will appear like a bird on enemy radar, he said, which will allow these drones to continue collecting data for as long as they possibly can since they are likely to go undetected.
"When you think about how military [radar] systems are designed, they are designed to shoot down tactical jets. You build into radars gates that take away things like birds," Thompson explained.
It is not clear at this time if Remedy will be used only for reconnaissance and data gathering missions, or whether it will also carry and deliver ordnance. The report mentioned that this drone can, in theory, be converted into a small, slow, but highly controllable missile as well. As of now, however, it is being developed as a camera- and sensor-carrying intelligence device.
"We'll send in these as a swarm. They'll begin to do search patterns for where we believe – in this general area is – this object that we are searching for. Could be [searching for] theatre ballistic missiles, long-range engagement radar, short-range engagement radar," added Thompson.