So-called “drone swarm” technology, which was initially tested (successfully) in at China Lake, Calif., in 2016, is an emerging battlefield capability that will give U.S. Army and Marine infantrymen significant advantages in urban spaces, which are expected to be the most prevalent battlefields in the future.

Here is an excerpt from a report detailing the emerging program:

The science fiction-sounding goal: Put an autonomous robot swarm of 250 or more drones under the control of light infantry soldiers or Marines to do complex tasks on the urban battlefield.

Competitors are now tackling that goal in a multi-stage event announced late last year by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Events called Sprinters are intended to develop “offensive swarm-enabled tactics” for these emerging technologies. …

The 2016 Defense Department test was focused on low-altitude intel missions.

The new DARPA project will combine air and ground robots in a more complex environment – urban spaces.

Phase 1 of the project is led by Raytheon BBN Technologies and Northrop Grumman Corporation. The two companies will supply teams that will help design, develop and deploy open architecture for swarm technology in both virtual and physical environments, according to the DARPA website.

The teams will experiment with the technology to make swarm capabilities real. Other competitors will then use the architecture to focus on one of five areas – swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment and physical testbed.

Each of the areas will be the focus in six-month intervals, officials said. At the end of each event there will be a test and integration assessment in both virtual and physical experiments.

There will also be ad hoc Sprinters at times between the scheduled six-month competitions.

The first sprint, which accepted applications through last November, will look at generating swarm tactics for a mixed swarm of 50 air and ground robots to “isolate an urban objective within an area of two square city blocks over a mission duration of 15 to 30 minutes.” [source]

(Analyst comment: Who else is developing this technology? China. In fact, the U.S. and the Chinese appear to be in a race to develop the algorithms that will make such drone swarms more effective and capable.)