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Army to Demo Air-Launched Drones for Manned-Unmanned Aircraft Teaming

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Layne Merritt, head of U.S. Army’s Aviation Development Directorate, said the service plans to conduct a series of demonstrations for a new fleet of air-launched unmanned aircraft in the coming years, Defense News reported Tuesday. The service looks to develop a capability to deploy drones from a larger aircraft and perform advanced manned-unmanned teaming for reconnaissance, surveillance, long-range targeting, attack, decoy, resupply and casualty evacuation missions.

“This is a new class of weapon system,” Merritt told Defense News. “The cool thing about the air-launched effects is that now, instead of standoff jamming or standoff effects, we can have stand-in effects. Instead of being 100 kilometers away… we may be 100 meters away, and that’s going to change the type of payloads, but also may be more effective.”

He noted that the Army will work with industry to develop the air-launched drones. The service plans to begin testing the unmanned aircraft this fall aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flying at a lower altitude, about 100 feet or less, Merritt said. 

The next demonstration is expected at the end of fiscal year 2020, where the Army will deploy an unmanned “mothership” with multiple air-launched drones for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. An autonomous attack demonstration, testing of decoys and electronic warfare capabilities and integrated air defense system interference would follow by FY21 and later years.