Is the software for guiding swarms of drones publicly available?

Reconnaissance and attackBundeswehr researches swarms of drones

In various projects, the army and air force are researching the networking of manned and unmanned aircraft. The ability is known as "Manned-Unmanned-Teaming" (MUM-T) and means drones that support fighter jets or helicopters in reconnaissance or attack on ground targets in advance. The number of accompanying drones is theoretically unlimited and is mainly determined by the computing power of the military control system on the ground.

From 2022, the European Defense Agency plans to finance relevant research. The Ministry of Defense writes in the answer to a small question. The planned project goes by the name of “Autonomous, Reconfigurable Swarms of Unmanned Vehicles for Defense Applications” (ACHILLES), with the unmanned aircraft doing surveillance tasks. The goals also include the possible integration of the networked drones into the airspace controlled by civil air traffic controllers.

Drones from the rocket manufacturer

According to the answer, the German Air Force also wants to carry out further tests with swarms of drones. A Learjet, which is accompanied by target display drones, acts as the command aircraft. The armaments division of Airbus had already carried out similar tests at a military training area. They are related to the European "future air combat system" (Future Combat Air System - FCAS), which Airbus wants to produce from 2040 with the French armaments company Dassault Aviation. The Bundestag should decide on the next stage of development this summer.

As part of the FCAS, the swarms of drones are referred to as “remote carriers”, which are networked with the combat aircraft and systems on the ground via a “combat cloud”. According to the plans, Airbus is responsible for this and intends to subcontract the European rocket manufacturer MBDA.

What the “remote carriers” used in the FCAS could look like was shown by MBDA with the RC100 and RC200 two years ago at the aviation exhibition in Le Bourget. They weigh around 100 or 200 kilograms and have camouflage properties. They would be controlled with the help of artificial swarm intelligence. The rocket manufacturer cites the ability to "consistently react faster than the enemy" as one of the greatest challenges.

Dropping of transport aircraft

As a payload, the MBDA drones could carry sensors for reconnaissance, and they could also be equipped with systems for electromagnetic interference and deception of opposing systems. Arming is also possible; a high-ranking employee describes this as "integrated kinetic effect". Only then would the agile drones be “perceived as a threat” by opponents. In addition to drones, guided missiles could also be integrated into the deadly swarm and together “penetrate into protected areas”.

The “Remote Carrier” can be launched from combat aircraft, transport aircraft or ships. At the end of a corresponding research project, Airbus recently simulated the dropping of a swarm of drones from an A400 transport aircraft with the German Aerospace Center. The project included the design of a corresponding bracket with which the drones can be dropped like parachute loads.

The coordination of a swarm of drones places high demands on the pilots of fighter jets. That is why the Air Force is already carrying out "human-in-the-loop" investigations for future deployment concepts with all Eurofighter and Tornado crews. In this study, entitled OpFoKus (“Operative Demand Cooperation Unmanned Systems”), drones are intended to support aerial combat among enemy fighter jets. "Air war scenarios to be expected in the future" are tested in simulators.

Man gives "control to the machine"

The German army has also been working on swarms of drones for several years. They are supposed to accompany a helicopter. At the beginning of the decade the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich started the project CASIMUS (“Cognitive Automated Sensor Integrated Unmanned Mission System”) for the “semi-autonomous mission guidance” of drones. In the meantime, the investigations are being continued as CASIMUS II.

The University of the Federal Armed Forces is also developing applications for "deployment and command planning from the cockpit". Using such a system, the helicopter pilots can give orders to a drone for specific deployment scenarios. According to the project description, humans also "hand over control to the machine". The assistance system is improved with the help of artificial intelligence, and the maneuvers of the pilots are recorded and evaluated inside the simulator with eye movement measurement systems.

In the first phase, the results of CASIMUS were simulated; according to the answer from the Ministry of Defense, the project also included flight tests with an Airbus H145 helicopter and a LUNA NG. Among other things, the "battle reconnaissance" should be tested.

High degree of automation

In 2017, the company ESG Elektroniksystem- und Logistik, which regularly carries out studies for the German armed forces, investigated methods for controlling a helicopter drone from a helicopter. The research was carried out as part of the MiDEA project (“Mission Accompaniment by Drones for Reconnaissance and Reconnaissance”), which was started by the Ministry of Defense.

One year later, the ESG presented the results to the public together with the Bundeswehr Technical Service. The company's unmanned high-flyer carried out various tasks, including “deliver reconnaissance data”, “explore the edge of the forest” and “clear up possible landing zones”. The test drone was flown with a "high degree of automation". In the same year, the Airbus helicopter division demonstrated "Manned-Unmanned Teaming" with an H145 helicopter and an S-100 camcopter from the Austrian drone manufacturer Schiebel. According to an Airbus manager, the system is to be used primarily for scenarios in which there is a risk of being shot down.

According to Airbus, the drones fly with a high degree of automation. This is described in five levels of a so-called "Level of Interoperability" (LoI) in accordance with international standards. The interaction of a manned and unmanned helicopter is said to have reached the highest level 5. The entire flight, including take-off and landing, is handled by a routine. Airbus also wants to use this in the civil sector in the future.

"Over-saturation attacks" with large numbers of drones

Concrete procurement of swarms of drones is not currently planned by the army, but the need has already been formulated. Two years ago, a position paper by the Office for Army Development described scenarios for the future use of networked "Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems" (TaUAS). These could do various “partial orders” “from reconnaissance to bans to offensive agents”.

According to the paper, the army drones with a range of up to 40 kilometers are hardly protected. They could compensate for this high level of vulnerability with "oversaturation attacks" by a large number of aircraft. The Bundeswehr is to develop a container for this that contains 100 such drones. The TaUAS should be able to charge automatically at this base station.

With the help of artificial intelligence, the drones would operate largely autonomously. This also explicitly applies to combat operations. As unmanned weapons systems, they should have the “ability to sneak / infiltrate” and be used “in several waves for the targeted, step-by-step elimination of important capabilities” of the enemy. The office names the attack on "combat vehicles or sensitive components of light armored vehicles" as possible targets.

About the author

Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist and member of the editorial board of the magazine Bürgerrechte & Polizei / CILIP. All texts at, in English, on Twitter @matthimon. Not a believer in conspiracy theories of any kind. Use the Binnen-I despite the rumble of annoying masculists.
Published 04/19/2021 at 1:11 PM