High over Alaska last summer, the Pentagon experimented with new, secret prototypes: Micro-drones that can be launched from the flare dispensers of moving F-16s and F/A-18 fighter jets. Canisters containing the tiny aircraft descended from the jets on parachutes before breaking open, allowing wings on each drone to swing out and catch the wind. Inch-wide propellers on the back provided propulsion as they found one another and created a swarm.
The experiment was run by the secretive Strategic Capabilities Office, a Pentagon organization launched in summer 2012 to figure out how to best counter growing strategic threats from China and Russia. The specifics of what the mini-drones can do are classified, but they could be used to confuse enemy forces and carry out surveillance missions using equipment that costs much less than full-sized unmanned aircraft. Video reviewed by The Washington Post shows the tiny aircraft, which weigh about a pound each, moving in packs and gaining situational awareness after sitting inert in the flare canisters.
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Image courtesy of the Washington Post