The Army is testing out ‘wolfpacks’ of swarming drones

Swarms of drones can assist soldiers with scouting, post-battle evaluation, and other tasks, according to a recent experiment.

The Army prepped for the future of battle in the desert of Utah's Dugway Proving Ground, under the watchful eye of a drone "wolfpack." The Experimental Demonstration Gateway Exercise (EDGE) 22 took place from April 25 to May 13, with the goal of determining how troops will collaborate and battle in a swarm.

A drone swarm resembles a disassembled airplane. The military can still explore and strike from the skies while having the built-in redundancy that comes with a plurality of drones by putting sensors and weapons on many distinct tiny aircraft, each with its own wings, engines, and directions.

Four swarms of up to seven drones each participated in the exercise. The ability to control so many drones with a single human operator is a significant step toward making drone swarms a realistic military capability. Every soldier driving a drone is a soldier who is less capable of responding quickly to dangers in the vicinity, and managing drones as a swarm allows one swarm director to undertake the work of seven remote pilots.

All of this was referred to as the "wolfpack" by the Army. Meanwhile, it uses the language of "Air Launched Effects" to explain the varied capabilities of drones (ALE).

The swarms were launched in four waves at EDGE22: a scouting wave, a second scouting wave designed to overwhelm enemy ability to track and detect, a third wave with weapons (or drones that could direct artillery and missiles), and a fourth wave that did post-battle assessment, a kind of scouting in reverse.

The exercise brought together personnel from throughout the Department of Defense, as well as troops from Canada, Italy, and Germany, as well as observers from three other European nations and Australia.

“EDGE22 marked the largest ALE swarm to date, maxing out at seven in one swarm, with only one pilot on the ground needed to execute the swarms’ tasks,” the Army stated in a statement. “That layered capability will provide commanders real-time decision making, while keeping Soldiers out of harm’s way, allowing for a situation to develop until ground forces are absolutely needed.” 

Drones were released from helicopters in the air and from truck racks. The Army may conduct overhead scouting using a swarm that can be launched from vehicles on the ground, even if there are no friendly aircraft nearby. It demonstrated that swarms can cover not just extra reconnaissance in advance of an aerial attack, but that the swarms themselves can fly out and catch early anti-aircraft fire, emptying missile stocks before the crewed aircraft get near, by deploying drones from helicopters.

ALTIUS 600s, a tube-launched drone with modular payloads, were among the drones deployed in the swarm. This enables the drones to be equipped with mission-specific sensors, jammers to defeat other drones, or even explosive payloads to transform the drone into a Switchblade-like weapon.

Drones aren't merely a tool for the United States. Drones have previously been used by irregular and rebel forces in flurry assaults, with several UAVs used to overwhelm anti-air systems. In 2018, insurgent-launched drones hit a Russian airfield in Syria. It's the type of threat that current anti-air weaponry might neutralize at the time, but only at the expense of costly missiles.

Drones have been utilized in warfare in Ukraine, with multiple reconnaissance drones guiding artillery on both sides and loitering weapons like as the US-supplied Switchblade drone being employed in direct strikes. Countering drones relies on the equipment available to the attacking troops, which might range from hoping the drone is low enough for a rifle to shoot it down to deploying a concentrated antenna jammer to destroy the vehicle in the sky if equipped.

Drones are made much more difficult to handle by swarms, which are made up of many aircraft. Even if the swarm consists of only a few drones exploring, data exchange between drones and human operators might allow one scout to offer accurate coordinates for an entire battery of artillery to target.

“What we’re seeing with drones is they’re extending our reach even further. We’ve got to make sure our concepts align with that technology, and make sure that since our drones can go that far, can we communicate that far, can we sense that far, can we operate in a tough neighborhood that far,” according to a press statement, Major General Walter "Wally" Rugen.
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