The Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office, in cooperation with the Naval Air Systems Command and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, recently announced that it has successfully tested a swarm of 103 autonomous Perdix micro-drones over the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, CA. The drones operated as a group to complete four specific missions during the test sortie.
In October 2016, three F/A-18 Super Hornets released the drones from small, hardpoint-mounted pods during a flyby. The drones withstood Mach 0.6 ejection speeds and -10°C temperatures.
The test demonstrated Perdix’s collective, distributed decision-making intelligence and adaptive swarm flying behavior.
"Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature," said William Roper, Director of the Strategic Capabilities Office.
Individual Perdix drones are inexpensive and a swarm of Perdix drones can easily reorganize the swarm if individual units drop out of formation and/or crash.
"Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the teams," said Roper.
After being released, the drones congregated at a preordained waypoint and then departed for their mission objectives. The first three missions included the swarm flying to a target point. The fourth mission required the drones to form a wide rotating ring formation.
The Perdix drones feature two sets of spring-loaded carbon-fiber wings attached to a Kevlar composite fuselage and are propelled by a rear-facing push propeller powered by a lithium-polymer battery. Their small size, a wingspan of 12 in, makes them able to dodge air defense systems.
Perdix drones were developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory in 2013. The program has been upgraded by the Strategic Capabilities Office using all-commercial components, 3D-printing, and agile manufacturing.
The drones can be launched by air, sea, or ground in small or large swarms to perform low-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in the near-term future. However, applications may be wider-ranging. Possible applications may include jamming hostile communications, confusing hostile radar, attacking targets if equipped with explosives, or attacking enemy aircraft as foreign object debris.