Once considered a conspiracy, the use of drones has rapidly become open knowledge as part of warfare and surveillance, domestically and abroad. We are now witnessing the roll-out of the next stage of drone evolution: swarms.
Swarm technology is being tested across the board on land, at sea and in air. Moreover, rapid advances are being made in artificial intelligence that enable autonomous systems to be fully released from human control altogether – identifying, surrounding and incapacitating targets.
One of the components of airborne drone swarms is the use of micro-drones – small, sometimes insect-sized autonomous vehicles that can be deployed from larger aircraft.
Earlier last year, Pentagon released information about a system called Perdix, a supposedly secret program that utilized F-16s and F/A-18 fighter jets to deploy swarms of micro-drones. It was a short video, grainy, and frankly lacked the production value of other military promos. I speculated at the time that due to its announcement coming via the Washington Post, as well as statements made by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, that this video had the hallmarks of a propaganda campaign designed – as Carter put it – to “get the attention of potential adversaries.” It also offered the dual purpose of lightly informing the public about this technology and paving the way for acceptance.
The Pentagon has now released a new, much clearer video of Perdix which offers more details and a far more chilling example of what type of swarm technology currently exists (so far as the public is permitted to know).
In this test, we see the release of a “cloud” of micro-drones numbering more than 100 which were released from three F/A-18 Super Hornets. It is being noted as one of the world’s largest swarms yet to be successfully released. Perhaps even more concerning is that the test occurred over California at China Lake, a Naval Air Weapons Station located 150 miles north of Los Angeles.
Among the capabilities stated by the Pentagon, and reported by AFP are the following:
- “The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying and self-healing”
- “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”
- “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.”
This opens the door to the full roll-out of these swarms which also have other slated tasks including targeted assassination. Please see the following Air Force video for what else the (near) future might hold as we head further into the realm of science fiction becoming reality.