Home Americas Drone swarms descend on fake city in DARPA’s latest autonomous systems test

Drone swarms descend on fake city in DARPA’s latest autonomous systems test

DARPA OFFSET drone swarm test at Leschi Town
Photo: DARPA

Researches working on the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) unmanned systems swarming tactics program have recently tested autonomous systems in the Leschi Town, a military testing ground on Joint Base Lewis-McChord designed to resemble an urban environment.

The Leschi Town field experiment is the fourth of six planned experiments for the OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program, which seeks to develop large-scale teams of collaborative autonomous systems capable of supporting ground forces operating in urban environments.

Two swarm systems integrators – Northrop Grumman Mission Systems and Raytheon BBN Technologies – are creating swarm systems architectures, advanced interfaces, and virtual and physical swarm testbeds for OFFSET.

Northrop and Raytheon tested their autonomous platforms – comprising ground vehicles, multirotor and fixed-wing aircraft – in a multi-stage, interactive scenario to locate and secure multiple simulated items of interest relevant to the urban operational scenario.

“The swarm systems integrators have been steadily improving their capabilities, each approaching the testing scenarios in unique ways,” said Timothy Chung, the OFFSET program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). “Being able to test large-scale swarms in complex urban environments will allow us to extract new insights into the best ways to use a swarm, especially as our field tests increase in size, complexity, and duration.”

How the swarm commanders chose to approach the test series was dependent on a given swarm’s capabilities as well as the strategies and tactics available at their disposal. Using real-time swarm data and scenario analysis provided by the DARPA experimentation team after each run, the Swarm Systems Integrators extracted insights from each mission and generated new strategies to improve their following test runs, in addition to future technology development.

As OFFSET field experiments continue, the two companies will look for opportunities to incorporate novel swarming technologies, including those developed by swarm sprinters, into their own respective architectures.

During the Leschi Town experiment, swarm sprinters, including Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory; Michigan Tech Research Institute; University of Buffalo; and Northwestern University, demonstrated technologies designed to enhance the swarm systems integrators’ capabilities for mission execution.

Previous field experiments took place at the US Army’s Camp Roberts in Paso Robles, California; the Selby Combined Arms Collective Training Facility in Fort Benning, Georgia; and the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Mississippi. Future field experiments are targeted at six-month intervals.