The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has recently announced that it wants to create drone squadrons that will have the ability to work together during combat and surveillance missions.
The new project, posted as a solicitation on the Federal Business Opportunities website, seeks to make drones more effective and less dependent on human operators by endowing un-crewed aircraft (UA) with heightened levels of autonomy and the capacity to behave collaboratively.
According to the agency, "most of the current [drone] inventory is not well matched to the needs of future conflicts, which DARPA anticipates being much less permissive, very dynamic, and characterized by a higher level of threats."
Collaborative autonomy has the potential to significantly increase the capabilities of legacy assets as well as to reduce the cost of future systems by composing heterogeneous teams of UA that can leverage the capabilities of each asset without having to duplicate or integrate capabilities into a single platform.
In other words, DARPA wants to create UA squadrons comprised of drones with diverse, unique capabilities — rather than trying to cram all the equipment into individual drones. But that concept is only feasible to the extent that you can imbue drones with collaborative instincts. If DARPA accomplishes that, it says, then drone squadrons could provide "diverse observation angles to improve target identification," and protect one another when under attack.
The program — Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) — will be implemented in three phases through the end of 2018, at a total cost of $54.3 million.
You can read a complete copy of DARPA's proposal at the Federal Business Opportunities website.