Boeing Testing Drone Swarming Tech

It’s been quite a week for UAV related news; we found out that the Navy will replace its big EP-3 Aries SIGINT planes with drones around 2020, then the Air Force announced that a midair collision occurred between a C-130 and a drone in Afghanistan and the Navy is arming its Fire Scout drone choppers.  Now, Boeing is experimenting with a concept of drone warfare that’s been around for a while; swarming.

Basically, you throw a ton of drones at an enemy and through sheer numbers overwhelm any defenses.

Last month, the Chicago-based defense giant flew two Insitu Scan Eagle UAVs and a Procerus Unicorn from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory over Oregon and had them talk to each other autonomously. A key ability for remotely piloted aircraft to have if they are to attack targets together.

Many see swarm tech as the key for overwhelming modern air defense systems. Who knows, maybe someday in the not too distant future hundreds of relatively cheap but lethal drones will seriously reduce the role played by the F-22s, F-35s, J-20s and PAK FAs of the world.

From a Boeing announcement:

Swarm technology is similar to how insects communicate and perform tasks as an intelligent group. The UAVs worked together to search the test area through self-generating waypoints and terrain mapping, while simultaneously sending information to teams on the ground. A broader demonstration is planned for the end of September.

“This is a milestone in UAV flight,” said Gabriel Santander, Boeing Advanced Autonomous Networks program director and team leader. “The test team proved that these unmanned aircraft can collect and use data while communicating with each other to support a unified mission. This swarm technology may one day be used for search-and-rescue missions or identifying enemy threats ahead of ground patrols.”

21 Comments on "Boeing Testing Drone Swarming Tech"

  1. reminds me of Stalin's quote "Quantity has a quality all of its own."

  2. Next, you put one of those new IBM neuronal chips in them so they're semi-sentient, and then you need Josh Lucas, Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx to swoop in and shoot them down when they go rogue.

  3. More evidence that defense only listens to the cool elements of Hollywood films, and not the risks.

  4. It doesn't look like a swarm to me. It looks more like a cluster!

  5. Smart idea, sending swarm of drones plus hundred cruise missiles and for ending B-2 with massive over 10tons bombs and those Iran nuclear reactor, cold water plant and uranium enrichment facility are over.
    But counter strike and oil prices are still a huge issue.

  6. Swarm of drones seems to be perfect target for flak gun/ phalanx style systems

  7. This is how we beat Nazi Germany.

    They had better planes. But, we had a lot more of them.

    Oh, and remember, swarming is the Chinese plan for dealing with
    our carriers.

  8. The quoteable parts are: "flew two Insitu Scan Eagle UAVs and a Procerus Unicorn from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory over Oregon and had them talk to each other autonomously."

    Depending on bandwidth, it suggests that UAVs could be used to transmit data between each other to act as flying relays. And if they can do so autonomously, it suggests they may have redundant capabilities in the event of packet loss to act as a distributed network: like a flying internet.

    In a more meat-and-potatoes sense, aircraft that can talk between each other can coordinate their attacks. "Swarming" conveys the idea of attacking en masse and achieving objectives via attrition. If they can communicate with each other autonomously, it opens doors for autonomous aircraft to execute combined arms missions.

    Send a swarm into country X. Reconaissance aircraft detect enemy air defense. Communicate. Execute SEAD mission with UAVs. Penetrate defenses, attack various objectives, each assigned an initial weight, with targets of opportunity assigned weights as they appear, and should the weight of a target of opportunity exceed that of the programmed target, autonomously re-coordinate resources to attack. So instead of hitting a fuel tank farm; a UAV may sight a TEL with a BM on it. This will be weighted more than the fuel tank farm, and the swarm adjusts accordingly for a new mission.

    The sooner we can develop autonomous aircraft with primitive decision-making capability…

  9. …as seen on the movie “Skyline”

  10. Yeah more remote control planes to get jammed and crash and the mission goes to maned fighter again.

  11. We were on par with Nazi Germany on tech and it took time to build manpower to over come them. The Russians are a better example how they swarmed them with cheap equipment and they just kept coming even with the huge heavy losses. germany couldn't handle them.

    If it wasn't for the Russians front, it would have been more of a standoff with us.

  12. there will sure be a lot of bugs in the software for that kind of autonomy.

  13. Drones are nice but they are ment to do certain things far cheaper or or stay on mission far longer than a manned asset.

    I find it troubling that drones are getting more and more and more and mre expensive. At what point does it become a choice between say a F-35C with a price of 100mil to a new drone that can do less but cost 90mil?

    If they are going to build a swarm they will need thousands of drones not dozens or hundreds. So can you build a drone for only say 3-6 mil that can be used multiple times.

  14. not impressed | August 20, 2011 at 4:41 am | Reply

    Part 1 / 2

    OK: "Swarms"…

    Achilles Heel(s) : Long, relatively predictable and detectable flights, especially over both oceans, a fatal dependence on stealth (works for how long still?), vulnerablity of their mobile launching platforms.
    Also: One thing is to teach a U.A.V. / U.A.V. swarm to find a way out of a maze or "obstacle course", another thing is to tell it to dodge (swarms of) missiles, let alone to protect your own forces from intelligent enemy ordnance. And how do the U.S.A. intend to defend themselves against enemy swarm attacks?!

    (I suppose you're perfectly aware that U.A.V. swarms won't fight relatively low-tech and bloody Infantry wars for you either, where every low-ranking, lowbrowed superior coolly wastes dozens of subordinates per week just to check which jungle road or city road is safe)


  15. I bet the defense industry will love this… 'cheap' drones costing millions of dollars a piece swarming a target in the hundreds, so what if we lost 100 million dollars worth of drones taking out a 10 million dollar target that a single 100 million dollar aircraft could have achieved without losses using a 500,000 dollar missile…. there weren't any friendly casualties, isn't that what counts?

    Get real, this is a wonderful idea on paper but what practical purpose will this serve? I honestly hope the Pentagon isn't dumb enough to actually invest in this technology as a serious means of fighting a war.

  16. Is this not how The Cylons get started???

  17. Autonomous drones talking to each other as they fly and attack. Lets call it "SKYNET"
    Surely nothing bad can come of this.

  18. Funny how cyborgs can get old and pudgy

  19. jeez if i saw a that many bombers above my house im getting on my susuki and getting away lol

  20. I get the feeling that our war planners are spending their time playing Starcraft.

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