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The US Army Is Experimenting With Drone Swarms And It's Terrifying

The US Army Is Experimenting With Drone Swarms And It's Terrifying

The US Army Is Experimenting With Drone Swarms And It's Terrifying
Danielle de Wolfe
08 October 2015

Early on in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, there's a sequence on the war torn streets of Seoul, South Korea, that sees the player attacked by a 'drone swarm'. 

It's terrifying: a great cloud of grey bots move in unison like a school of fish, seeking out a target. You hide behind a car door, incapable of taking out the whole lot by yourself, letting them thunder past.

What's even more unsettling is that the US Army is actually testing the potential of drone swarm technology for combat. 

At present, military drones are usually dirty great plane-sized monsters, used for long reconnaissance flights or armed with deadly payloads. Smaller quadcopters and 'hobbyist' drones are ill-fitted to serve for military uses given their weak structure and short flight range - but a series of experiments by the US Army Test and Evaluation Command is looking to see if cheap, "off the shelf" drones might serve a purpose if they can be controlled in a swarm.

"Right now there's hardly anyone doing swarms, most people are flying one, maybe two, but any time you can get more than one or two in the air at the same time, and control them by waypoint with one laptop, that's important," said James Story, an engineer with the Targets Management Office of the (deep breath) Program Executive Office for Simulation Training and Instrumentation. "You're controlling all five of them, and all five of them are a threat."

The US military is keen to see if they can attach varying payloads to smaller drones - from cameras to bombs - without reducing the flight time. In theory, if a swarm of drones could be controlled by one operator, each carrying a small bomb, it could become hugely difficult for an individual target to defend itself against multiple drones - despite their fragile structure and lack of armour.

"Even if you defeat one or two, if one of them slips past the guard that can pose a problem," said Michael Francis, integrated product team lead for the multirotor targets program.

We'll let you know the latest US military experiments as soon as Call of Duty: Black Ops III arrives on 6 November and gives them new ideas.