The US military has been testing a new variety of micro-drone that is able to swarm together with hundreds of others. Although far from being fully operational, a recent live demonstration shows that the future of warfare is certainly going to be quite different from the one the world is currently used to.
Bringing the world of video games and movies to life, three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets released 103 drones over China Lake in California last October, where they successfully used their distributed “brain” to quickly gather together and “overwhelm” a virtual target.
These Perdix drones have a wingspan of just 30 centimeters (12 inches). These agile mechanical critters are able to evade air defense systems, and will likely be used for surveillance purposes in the near-future.
The Perdix drones swarming together. DVIDS via Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
“Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” William Roper, the director of the Strategic Capabilities Office, told BBC News. “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”
Drone warfare isn’t new at all – unmanned, remotely-piloted aircraft are used to assassinate people on the ground all the time. However, with the rapid development of AI and hive mind mechanics, the use of drones is quickly becoming far more complex.
Fixed-wing UAV swarms in China. NightmareButterfly via YouTube
Although these are marked for surveillance purposes, there’s nothing to say that they can’t be armed and used to surround an unfortunate target. Swarming in the hundreds, an advanced air defense system could shoot a few of them down – perhaps even most of them – but not all.
These Perdix drones are an example of this, using somewhat basic programming and intercommunication to be able to behave as one single unit. They even have a counterpart in China, whose state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation showcased 67 swarming drones late last year.
LOCUST testing. usnavyresearch via YouTube
The Perdix drones have competition from within the United States too. Take the US Navy’s Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program, a cannon that fires swarms of drones into the sky at a moment’s notice. Then there’s the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who aren’t just working on a similar swarm program, but another where “vampire drones” are able to sublimate and literally disappear in sunlight.
The future is just a few steps away – and who knows, considering the secretive nature of military activities, perhaps some of these drones are already in operation across the world.