Here’s What Documents show the Navy extensive plans for terrifying AI Drone Swarms
The United States Navy is reportedly working to make the terrifying drone swarms seen in Call of Duty and films like Angel Has Fallen a reality in modern combat. According to budget documents reviewed by the MIT Technology Review, these AI flocks of autonomous buzzing drones could potentially be launched to overwhelm air defense or nose dive from the sky in kamikaze-style airstrikes. Drone Swarm is the name of the project. While the Navy and other branches of the US military have been experimenting with swarms of drones for some time, the budget document provides clear, detailed visions of how the department could use the swarms on the battlefield in the future. According to the documents, the drone swarms could launch from a variety of platforms, such as submarines or aircraft, and could carry a variety of payloads ranging from explosives to electronic jammers or troop equipment.
DEALRS, another project allegedly presented in the document, aims to solve current drones’ finicky range issues by developing a larger “mothership” capable of carrying and launching multiple drones. MASS (Manufacturing of Autonomous Systems at Scale) hopes to one day use 3D printing to mass-produce cheap, disposable drones. Some of the military’s more advanced small drones can currently cost upwards of $200,000 per unit, so lowering costs will be critical in any future drone swarms. When used in actual combat scenarios, the Navy’s drone swarms could act as the first line of defense, breaching through thick defenses and softening them up for subsequent airstrikes or ground force invasions. Because of the sheer number of drone swarms (DARPA believes it is possible to create swarms of thousands of drones), they can still disrupt an enemy’s defenses even if many of them are shot down.
While not exactly the modern advanced sci-fi vision of drone swarms that movie buffs may have in their heads, organized groups or cooperative drones have played a decisive role in recent conflicts, particularly the war in Ukraine. At the start of the war, Ukrainian officials urged Kyiv hobby drone owners to use their aircraft for reconnaissance and monitoring Russian military movements. With the war escalating, the US reportedly sent batches of Phoenix Ghost unmanned aerial drones designed for tactical operations to the Ukrainian military. Tactical operations in this context refer to combat. “It has optics, like almost all unmanned aerial systems, so it can also be used to give you a site picture of what it’s seeing, of course.” At the time, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby stated. “However, its primary focus is on the attack.” Most recently, Russia used Iranian-made Shahed-136 “suicide drones” to intentionally target at least four targets in Kyiv, including a residential building and a train station.
Though the MIT Technology Review documents provide clearer glimpses into the US military’s thinking around potential tactical applications of drone swarms, they aren’t entirely novel. DARPA, the Pentagon’s gonzo research and development team, has spent years publicly attempting to crack the drone swarm code is fascinating and, at times, terrifying ways. DARPA’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) researchers have reportedly conducted at least six field experiments with these drone swarms since 2017, with a top official, telling FedScoop that the technology could be deployed by the US military within five years. The agency is also looking into new ways to wirelessly charge its massive drone fleet.
Though it’s unclear how a future army of buzzing drones would operate on the battlefield, DARPA has stated that it intends to use augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as voice and touch gestures, to provide the swarm’s human controller with a common interface that provides them with “immersive situational awareness and decision presentation capabilities.” At the same time, other countries such as China, Russia, and Israel are reportedly competing to close the technology gap with the US and deploy their swarms. In Israel’s case, after deploying an unspecified number of drones during its May conflict in Gaza, it became the first military known to have used a drone swarm in combat last year. According to Defense One, the drones worked together to identify enemy locations and relayed information that was used to launch dozens of missile strikes.