U.S. military wants to develop drone that vanishes in the daylight

A drone is launched from the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga for a scheduled missile exercise of the Singapore phase of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training 2008. The drone was shot down with a missile launched from the Republic of Singapore ship RSS Endeavour. CARAT is an annual series of bilateral maritime training exercises between the United States and six Southeast Asian nations designed to build relationships and enhance the operational readiness of the participating forces.

The U.S. military plans to create a drone that can vanish after delivering supplies to troops on a battlefield.

The initiative was posted online by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency a few days ago. The motivation behind the plan is solving the logistical and strategic problems the military has when it tries to return drones and supply vehicles back to base during battle or covert operations.

Under certain circumstances, operational security mandates that no supply vehicles should be left behind after a mission. This creates problems for troops in the field that are in need of supply.

To solve the supply issues, the military is trying to create a drone that vanishes within four hours after a supply run or within 30 minutes of twilight.

“Supply and re-supply of small military and civilian teams in difficult to access territory currently requires the use of large, parachute-based delivery systems that must be packed out after receipt of the payload both for operational security and environmental concerns,” DARPA writes.

According to BGR, DARPA envisions that the drones can be used to deliver emergency supplies, like vaccines and blood, to troops that are in remote locations where they have no access to treatment and can’t be evacuated.

The drone program is called Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems, or ICARUS for short. With an $8 million budget, DARPA is hoping to create a drone that can travel up to 90 miles and meet the following requirements:

  • Fully vanish within four hours of payload delivery or morning civil twilight, whichever comes first.
  • Precisely drop a payload of up to three pounds within 10 meters of the target landing spot programmed prior to air release.
  • Exert less than 100 G of the payload throughout the delivery.
  • Cover a lateral distance of up to 93 miles when released from a stationary balloon at 35,000 ft.
  • Span fewer than 3 meters in its longest dimension.

Program head Dr. Troy Olsson is optimistic that the ICARUS program objectives can be met because he believes a program like this will only attract the brightest minds.

On the DARPA website, Olsson wrote, “Inventing transient materials, devising ways of scaling up their production, and combining those challenges with the hard control and aerodynamic requirements to reach the precision and soft-landing specs we need here makes for a challenging and compelling engineering problem.”

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