Skip to comments.Drone "Factory in a Can" Would Change Air War Forever
Posted on 09/07/2017 9:58:57 PM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
The Pentagon's research and development arm has laid down a challenge for the defense industry: Give us an armed drone that can carry air-to-air missiles and is inexpensive to produceoh, and also we need to crank out 500 of them every month. If one of the big defense contractors succeeds at this mission, it will revolutionize military manufacturing and aerial warfare as we know it.
In a video posted earlier this week on YouTube, Air Force Lt. Col. Jimmy Jones, a program manager with the Strategic Technology Office, challenged industry with the Flying Missile Rail (FMR) concept. DARPA's vision is an armed drone that would be carried on the missile rails of Air Force F-16s and Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18. The Flying Missile Rail would fly at 0.9 Mach (690 miles an hour) for up to 20 minutes.
This will be an air combat drone. According to Jones, it would carry at least one and preferably two AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles that can strike beyond visual range. FMR would be able to launch its AMRAAMs while on a fighter's wing or in flight by itself.
A key requirement for the program is what Jones calls a "factory in a can." The idea is that the entire manufacturing processplus materials, electronics, and everything else necessarymust be able to fit in several shipping containers. Any manufacturing process is allowed, but DARPA suggests highly automated advanced manufacturing processes such as computer numerical control (CNC) machining or 3D printing.
The point is that DARPA wants a single factory that can churn out 500 FMRs a month. That may be a lot of drones, but think of the number as part of the challenge. DARPA wants manufacturers to really think big.
Another advantage to the "factory in a can" strategy is that the services could take ownership of the factory and can choose how many drones to build. For example, the Air Force would not need two years and hours of negotiations to purchase an extra 50 drones; a "factory in a can" can produce that many in four days. It would also not have to pay to keep and maintain fleets of hundreds of drones on hand. Every year the services would fire up the factories and crank out a handful of drones to make sure everything still works, then shut down the machinery and walk away.
WE WILL SEE DRONE FACTORIES AT EVERY AIR BASE AND ON EVERY AIRCRAFT CARRIER, COMPLETE WITH THE DRONE'S INTERNALS AND WEAPONS, SHOVED INTO A QUIET CORNER, WAITING FOR A WAR. In the long run, a manufacturing strategy like FMR's is inevitable, and it will be revolutionary. We will see drone factories at every air base and on every aircraft carrier, complete with the drone's internals and weapons, shoved into a quiet corner, waiting for a war. Once war breaks out, the troops throw a switch and the factory starts cranking out drones. Eventually, this will apply to full-sized aircraft, and eventually to air, land and sea weapons.
FMR's ability to fly for 20 minutes at 690 miles an hour will effectively give U.S. fourth-generation fighters such as the F-16 and F/A-18 a buffer area where they can launch their missiles but the enemy cannot. This is particularly important as the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile is now 30 years old and increasingly being overtaken in capabilities, particularly range, by the air-to-air missiles of potential adversaries.
In a combat situation with U.S. and enemy fighters flying towards one another, FMR gives the U.S. pilots a choice. If the enemy is flying better planes with better missiles, the U.S. fighter can launch a FMR and turn tail, staying out of the enemy's engagement envelope and letting the drone do the fighting. If the enemy is flying inferior fighters, the U.S. fighter can launch the AMRAAMs hanging off FMR's rails and save the drone for a more dangerous engagement.
How soon will we see FMR prototypes flying? According to LTC Jones' chart, less than two years. Jones thinks that an emphasis on simplicity at all levels and avoiding "feature creep" that increases capabilities (and costs) will keep the project humming along. FMR is the beginning of a revolution in military manufacturing, and the continuation of the revolution in unmanned air combat vehicles. It is the future of warfare.
What in the world would they need this for?
There isn’t an air force on Earth that would require 500 drones capable of firing air to air missiles to deal with.
We just keep making cooler and cooler ways to kill each other.
Make these flying spheres that go for the head. Then they drill in...
To allow existing fourth generation fighter jets to swarm and overwhelm an enemy's fifth generation fighter jets with disposable vehicles.
China. Russia. Lots of countries, might just very well also be developing exactly the same capabilities.
The future of warfare is unmanned everything.
Encrypted and un-jammable communications is gonna be VITAL!
Oh, and everyone that wants to play will need clones of our large NRO sats in geostationary orbit.
You simply would not believe what these things are capable of!
85+ overall DB gain at only 23,000mi distance..whew
They can hear ANYTHING and also xmit ANYTHING.
A flea farts worth of rf is all it takes.
So the drone can carry two missiles 230 miles at relatively low speed before they are launched. The drone plus two missiles would add HUGE drag to the mother fighter seriously degrading its performance and range.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to increase the missile range by 230 miles and skip the drone entirely? This doesn’t add up.
It actually makes more sense to skip the F-15 or F-16 and let the drone do most of the work.
The drones are expendable and carry a few missiles. Something like an AWACS finds targets and cues the drones, which swarm the target and fire missiles.
If no targets are found, the drones return to base for refueling and a new mission. No pilots to get shot down and captured.
why are images of “SkyNet” from the Terminator flashing before my eyes?
Human Beings are positive control; mindless machines can
malfunction at precisely the wrong moment with potentially
All will be rendered useless with EMP.
Or don't launch from a fighter at all. How many of these buggers can a C-130 carry? Have a stealth fighter go ahead, designate targets, and then tell the trailing C-130 to launch missiles. LOTS of missiles.
But I do agree with the idea of skipping the drone and just adding range to the missile.
I don’t think the drones would ever return to base. If the fighter flew just 200 miles out from base the drone shouldn’t have enough range to return home. So they must expected to be 100% expendable. Avoiding the requirement to take off and land greatly and avoiding pilot life support requirements reduces the strength requirement for the drone airframe reducing weight a lot, but you still have highly limited range and very high parasitic drag on the fighter. If the fighter came under attack and had to skedaddle, the first thing it would have to do would be jettison the drone(s).
The autonomous swarming concept has promise, but it seems like you wouldn’t have much of a swarm if each mother fighter carried only one drone. With a 1:1 ratio mother:drone, your drone swarm is only as large as the number of fighters you launch.
“There isnt an air force on Earth that would require 500 drones capable of firing air to air missiles to deal with.”
DARPA is trying to get ahead of the curve. Warfare may be moving to massive swarms of air, ground and sea bots that, individually, are not that powerful. But hundreds of them would swamp any current defenses. The Navy has been experimenting with the concept for several years now.
Imagine being a soldier on the ground when hundreds of bird-sized glide devices swarm out of a missile launched pod. With no engines and just flight surfaces to guide them, they seek heat sources and they can tell the difference between artificial heat and body heat.
Imagine being a pilot when a pod falls from a high flying carrier drone and it dumps hundreds of guided chaff-like bomblets that will explode when close or when they get sucked into your engine.
(I article’s proposed concept misses the point, but the effort of developing it will not be wasted.)
Big defense contractors are not likely the ones that will design what DARPA wants. They make their money off of big, expensive, failure prone weapons systems. The people who will design this are going to be working from a garage shop operation. I suggested similar ideas to General Dynamics and I was pointedly told, “We don’t have an employee suggestion system.”
Have you seen the follow me functions on modern civilian drones?
If civilian drones can do this, Imagine the capability of military drones......as we speak!
Stalin: quantity has a quality all its own.
Any "air-to-air" missile is automatically an "air-to-ground" missile. I suspect the "canned factory" will also be able to swap out guidance hardware as needed to easily change functionality. The part that goes BOOM would likely stay the same.
With these kinds of design constraints you're not going to get eye-watering performance or range. Of course the tendency lately has been to take a concept like this, then complicate the h*ll out of it, and end up with something that is in development for years working the kinks out and costs too much to build more than a few of... They'll need a strong PM to stick to the original concept of operations and keep such a vehicle relatively simple and cheap.
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