Swarm Drones … The future of military warfare?

This looks like the future of military warfare … To overwhelm the resources of the enemy with swarms of drones that would among other capabilities provide a safer opening for manned aircraft and other tactical vehicles to enter the enemy’s space.

The key to an effective swarm system is that the entire group acts as a single unit while not being centrally controlled and thus having strong autonomous flight capability.  Working like a flock of birds or school of fish, the operator may provide a command like “search this area” and the swarm would work together to carry out the command and search the area in a coordinated fashion.


One such drone program is the LOw-Cost Unmanned aerial vehicle Swarming Technology (LOCUST) which according to the Navy is a prototype tube-launched UAV that can be launched in swarms to autonomously overwhelm an adversary. The deployment of UAV swarms will provide Sailors and Marines a decisive tactical advantage.  Watch the above video to see a demonstration of this new technology.

The LOCUST program includes a tube-based launcher that can send UAVs into the air in rapid succession. The breakthrough technology then utilizes information-sharing between the UAVs, enabling autonomous collaborative behavior in either defensive or offensive missions.

Since the launcher and the UAVs themselves have a small footprint, the technology enables swarms of compact UAVs to take off from ships, tactical vehicles, aircraft or other unmanned platforms.

LOCUST swam drone


Along this same train of thought of swarming, Raytheon is developing a system called MALD (Miniature Air Launched Decoy) which can precede combat aircraft and make the airspace a little safer by detecting and classifying targets and diverting the attack to them … thereby having the enemy focus their resources on these unmanned drones (and hopefully overwhelm those resources) and thus save more human lives and combat aircraft.

Also, according to the DailyBeast, instead of deploying squadrons of supersonic, manned jets to directly battle enemy planes with missiles and guns—the traditional approach to air superiority—in 2030 the Air Force will wage aerial warfare with a “family of capabilities,” according to the “Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan” strategy document.
With Russian and Chinese air defenses growing more sophisticated, in the future it is possible that U.S. fighters would not be able to survive long enough over enemy territory to make a difference in a major war.  One scenario could be that instead of manned aircraft a radar evading drone would fly into air space and detect enemy planes and then pass back targeting data to a plane that could be carrying hundreds of long-range missiles.


The DARPA Gremlins program seeks to develop innovative technologies and systems enabling aircraft to launch volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned air systems (UASs) and safely and reliably retrieve them in mid-air. Such systems would be deployed with a mixture of mission payloads capable of generating a variety of effects in a distributed and coordinated manner, providing U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at a lower cost than is possible with conventional, monolithic platforms.

DARPA Gremlins UAV
Concept Image: DARPA

China’s Record Swarm

China is also developing swarm drone technology and China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) displayed their swarming drone technology at the Airshow China in Nov 2016. Earlier their swarm technology claimed a record of 67 fixed wing drones flying together. According to a Popular Mechanics article, the drones used were fixed wing Skywalker X6 from China based Skywalker Technologies.
READ MORE: China Military Drones


U.S. Fighter Jet Swarm Launch

US military conducted one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms in October 2016. It consisted of 103 Perdix drones launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets. The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.


UAV Swarm Attack on Russia Military Facilities

What may be the beginning of the swarm drone era of warfare, in early January 2018 Russia reported what looks like a small scale and low tech swarm drone attack on facilities in Syria.

Conventional Drone

And then there is the conventional sized combat drone. Here the Navy ‘s new X-47B combat drone is shown getting ready to launch off of an aircraft carrier.  Future warfare looks to be a combination of these large highly capable armed UAV systems and swarms of smaller drones working in coordination to deliver an overwhelming response.
Navy X-47B drone
By – MC2 Timothy Walter, Public Domain

READ MORE: 10 Top Military Drones