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DARPA Seeks Ideas for UAS Aircraft Carrier in the Sky

November 19, 2014  - By
Image: GPS World

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is asking for input on how to launch and recover multiple small unmanned air systems (UAS) from existing large aircraft, such as the C-130. It has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking technical, security and business insights on “aircraft carriers in the sky.”

In DARPA’s “blended approach,” a large aircraft would host a small UAS and facilitate its operations. The agency says it would be more cost-effective for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and other missions.

Safety is another key aspect of the project. While small UAS can reduce putting an aircraft or pilot at risk, DARPA says it may lack the speed, range and endurance of larger aircraft.

“We want to find ways to make smaller aircraft more effective, and one promising idea is enabling existing large aircraft, with minimal modification, to become ‘aircraft carriers in the sky,'” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager. “We envision innovative launch and recovery concepts for new UAS designs that would couple with recent advances in small payload design and collaborative technologies.”

The RFI is calling for short responses — no more than eight pages — that must address the following three areas:

  1. System-level technologies and concepts that would enable low-cost reusable small UAS platforms and airborne launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification of existing large aircraft types. This area includes modeling and simulation as well as feasibility analysis, including substantiating preliminary data if available.
  2. Potentially high-payoff operational concepts and mission applications for distributed airborne capabilities and architectures, as well as relative capability and affordability compared to conventional approaches (e.g., monolithic aircraft and payloads or missile-based approaches). DARPA hopes to leverage significant investments in the area of precision relative navigation, which seeks to enable extremely coordinated flight activities among aircraft, as well as recent and ongoing development of small payloads (100 pounds or less).
  3. Proposed plans for achieving full-system flight demonstrations within four years, to assist in planning for a potential future DARPA program. DARPA is interested not only in what system functionality such plans could reasonably achieve within that timeframe, but also how to best demonstrate this functionality to potential users and transition partners. These notional plans should include rough order-of-magnitude (ROM) cost and schedule information, as well as interim risk reduction and demonstration events to evaluate program progress and validate system feasibility and interim capabilities.

According to a news release by DARPA, technology development beyond the three areas will be considered if it supports the RFI’s goals.

Proposals are due by 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 26, 2014, to DARPA-SN-15-06@darpa.mil.

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