Navy’s LOCUST Program Uses Small, Swarming Coyote Drones

Modern drone aircraft come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the size of a butterfly to as big as a small commercial jet. Most people think of the relatively large, missile-equipped Predator or Reaper drones when they think of remotely-piloted military aircraft, but the U.S. Department of Defense has been researching several other types of drones, including the large-bird sized Sensintel Coyote UAVs developed by BAE Systems.

The Coyote is currently being tested by the Navy as part of its new LOCUST program. The drones in the LOCUST program are coordinated by cutting-edge software, and can simultaneously swarm attack a target.

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More on the ONR’s LOCUST program

The Office of Naval Research is sponsoring the new LOCUST (Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology) program. The program involves filling a rocket tube launcher with small, self-guided Coyote drones that are designed to work together to overwhelm enemy drones or aircraft.

The concept of miniaturized coordinated drones offers a number of advantages versus a single larger drone. For one, smaller drones are cheaper. It’s much less expensive to buys hundreds of disposable drones compared to a $16 million Reaper drone. Equally importantly, the fact the drones coordinate themselves reduces the requirement for human operators. The drones in the LOCUST program are still controlled by humans, but only in a supervisory role instead of actually piloting the UAVs.

Details on the Sensintel Coyote

The original Coyote drone was funded by an ONR Small Business Technology Transfer grant, and is designed to carry either an electro-optical or infrared camera and data transmitter. It was intended for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations as it could be used with either maritime-patrol aircraft or anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters.

The nearly three-foot-long Coyote UAV has an electric motor and can be launched from the sonobuoy tube of a US Navy P-3C Orion or a helicopter.

After launch, a parachute opens to slow and stabilize the drone before the Coyote’s x-wings unfold and electric motor starts turning the propeller. Its flight is controlled via line-of-sight radio link (VHF or UHF) as far as 20 miles from the controller.

The Coyote is programmed in advanced of a mission. Once flying, the Coyote follows an autonomous, pre-programmed path.The Coyotes in the LOCUST program, however, have more sophisticated software installed.