Sometime in the future, a mission could entail char- acteristics not unlike
many others that took place before
it. Numerous aircraft would
approach a target. Some would
make assessments of that target
and potential threats in the surrounding area, and relay data to
their airborne “comrades.” Others
would provide cover. The remaining aircraft would carry out the
mission itself, be it target acquisition, search and rescue, or whatever they are called upon to do.
The key difference between this
hypothetical mission and those
that transpired before it: None of
the aircraft would have pilots.
Furthermore, the unmanned aerial
vehicles’ (UAVs’) human controllers on the ground or at sea ideally would have little
more to do than monitor the activity and make
changes only if necessary.
Sometime next year, perhaps by June, an adjunct of
the Arlington, Va.-based Office of Naval Research
(ONR) plans to take a major step toward making such
missions a reality. The program, known as LOCUST, an
acronym for low-cost UAV swarming technology, is
under development by ONR’s Expeditionary Maneuver
Warfare and Combatting Terrorism Department.
Once brought to fruition, LOCUST would incorporate
the power of a “swarm” of robotic aircraft, each preprogrammed to perform specific tasks, with the shared ability to communicate autonomously with each other.
“What this effort is doing is bringing technologies
together to conduct the demonstration at sea,” said Lee
Mastroianni, the project’s program officer. “We want to
rapid-launch 30 UAVs in a threshold of less than three
For the test, Mastroianni and his colleagues selected
the Coyote UAV. The unmanned plane initially was
developed by a Tucson, Ariz.-based company called
Sensitel that has since been acquired by Raytheon Co.
At 1 meter in length, Mastroianni said Coyote provides
a good balance of small size, economy and capability of
performing missions from a seaborne platform.
His group is working on developing algorithms that
would make swarm capability and autonomy possible,
incorporating some technologies already developed in
academia and the corporate community.
“There are a lot of people working on autonomy,”
Mastroianni said, citing as examples ongoing projects at
the Naval Postgraduate School and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology — two among many.
In that regard, as with the selection of Coyote,
Mastroianni described himself as “agnostic.” He merely wants to take advantage of existing work by using
the best UAV platforms, carrying the best technology
ONR program could pit groups of small
robotic aircraft against potential targets, threats
By NICK ADDE, Special Correspondent
Strength in Numbers
The Office of Naval Research’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare
and Combatting Terrorism Department is developing a program
known as LOCUST, for low-cost UAV swarming technology.
; In a test next year, program officials are hoping to rapid-launch 30
small unmanned aerial vehicles to study, among other things, swarm
control, turning maneuvers and tracking how far they are separated.
; A similar test last year with unmanned watercraft used a technology called Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command
and Sensing to form a picket around an asset and protect it from
an impending adversary.
; Once LOCUST is brought to fruition, the idea is that each aircraft in the swarm can be preprogrammed to perform specific
tasks, with the shared ability to communicate autonomously with