Donald Trump looks to fund laser-powered bat drones amid World War 3 fears
THE US is looking for researchers to develop laser-powered bat-like drone technology amid increased fears of a potential World War 3.
Earlier this week, the US Defence Enterprise Science Initiative announced a competition for basic science grants to build “new paradigms for autonomous flight, with a focus on highly manoeuvrable platforms and algorithms for flight control and decision making”.
An accompanying Broad Agency announcement said: “The biological study of agile organisms such as bats and flying insects has yielded new insights into complex flight kinematics of systems with a large number of degrees of freedom, and the use of multi-functional flight surface materials.
“Wireless power transmission could augment existing technologies and enable new paradigms for warfighter operations in denied environments, unmanned or autonomous surveillance and weapons systems.”
Nature-imitating designs for crawling and even swimming robots go back decades.
However, producing flying machines that mimic nature is a more complicated affair than getting robots to swim and crawl, meaning even the military’s smallest drones have followed conventional aerodynamic designs.
The Broad Agency announcement also suggests the power could be “transmitted either from the ground or from a high-altitude platform”.
Meanwhile, US military chiefs are also developing huge flying aircraft carriers capable of launching swarms of drones from mid-air.
The huge aircraft will quickly release armies of drones to assault enemy targets before returning to dock with their flying mothership.
A US defence department research agency has fixed a price with two weapons companies to develop the drones, named ‘gremlins’, and expects to conduct a demonstration of the system next year.
The gremlins could be sent high beyond the reach of enemy weapon systems and would cost less than the missiles an adversary would need to shoot them down. The aircraft could also be used up to 20 times.
Gremlins drones would be ejected from the back of a C130 and are able to return to the aircraft after their mission. They are also equipped with bombs, radar and cameras, each with a limit of 60lb and 300-mile range.
The drone programme, launched in 2015 by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), was envisioned to release flocks of small and relatively inexpensive drones deployed from lightly modified fighter jets, bombers and transport planes.
These drones could operate as a team or individually, carrying out intelligence or attacking missile and radar positions.
Drone technology already allows for unmanned aircraft to be launched in mid-air, and small drones are thought to have been launched in this way from an F-16 – but retrieving them again, in mid-air, poses far greater challenges.
The programme manager, Scott Wierzbanowski, said last year the first phase examined how a returning drone might land with “minimal modification to the host aircraft”.
In phase two of the programme, Darpa charged a company called Dynetics, in Alabama, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the San Diego-based developer of the Predator drone, were charged with developing models for the gremlins with a 300-mile range and 60lb payload.
Phase three involves an inflight demonstration of the system.