The Gremlins are coming in 2019

Dynetics team selected by DARPA to develop and flight test air-launched drones

A team led by Dynetics Inc. of Alabama plans to start tests later this year on elements of its proposed concept for dispatching drones from C-130 transport planes and recovering them with a tethered capture device that resembles an aerial refueling boom.

The Alabama company announced Wednesday that it has won the next phase of DARPA’s $64 million Gremlin program, beating out rival General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of California, which had proposed a mechanical arm to move the drones in and out of the C-130 cargo bay.

If operational versions of Gremlins are eventually acquired, C-130s could take off from forward operating bases and release Gremlins to strike targets or collect intelligence, and then recover the drones.

“The potential to overwhelm an adversary continuously with multiple volleys is tremendous,” said Tim Keeter, the Dynetics deputy program manager, in a Wednesday telephone conference with reporters.

By late 2019, the Dynetics team must demonstrate its launch and recovery technique with drones and a C-130. The goal is to retrieve four drones in less than 30 minutes, Keeter said. This 21-month final phase will be worth $38.6 million to the Dynetics team.

After this contract, the next step would be adding payloads to the drones, Keeter said.

“When they complete their mission, they return to airborne manned platforms to be recovered to a forward operating base where they can be quickly refurbished and put back into the fight,” he said.

Within the team, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems of California will build and test each drone; Sierra Nevada Corp. will provide the navigation system for docking each drone to the C-130 capture mechanism; Williams International of Michigan will provide the turbofan engines for the drones.

The Gremlins are coming in 2019