While drone-on-drone fights are still thought of in the future tense (which isn’t to say forces aren’t preparing for them) drone-to-drone cooperation is here now – in the form of swarming, for instance.
With the Navy developing unmanned vehicles – in the air, on the surface and below the ocean – these systems, designed to operate far away from human operators, will need fuel and data updates. The Office of Naval Research has proposed a potential solution – let other drones take care of it. After all, one of the draws of unmanned technologies are their endurance capabilities. Diverting manpower and manned assets to perform these services or forcing unmanned platforms to cut mission time to refuel, to some degree, diminishes the role that long endurance plays.
Specifically, ONR’s effort is aimed at aiding Fleet-class unmanned surface vehicles – vessels approximately 38.5 feet in length with full-load displacement of 21,400 pounds that tow mine-countermeasure sweep gear, support anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare and/or electronic warfare missions. The Navy is developing various unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) that are launched and recovered from host ships, but also a remote fueling and data transfer system more proximate to the USV than the host ship to increase endurance mission time, as opposed to having the USV return the host ship for these tasks.