War Drones Are Coming to the F-22 and F-35 Stealth Fighters

Kris Osborn

Key point: Recoverable drones controlled by stealth fighter pilots will add increased scouting and fighting capabilities. The Pentagon knows this and so is working hard to bring them to the pilots downrange.

US Air Force F-22s and F-35s will soon launch and control recoverable attack drones from the cockpit of the plane to expand air-combat operations, test enemy air defenses, conduct long-range ISR and even deliver weapons.

This fast-approaching technology, which calls upon advanced levels of autonomous navigation, is closer to reality due of DARPA’s Gremlins program which plans to break new ground by launching – and recovering – four drones from an in-flight C-130 next year.

Air recoverable drones, slated to become operational over just the next few years, will bring a new phase of mission options enabling longer ranges, improved sensor payloads, advanced weapons and active command and control from the air.

“The team looked at how fifth generation aircraft systems like the F-35 and F-22 respond to threats, and how they could incorporate Gremlins in higher risk areas,” a DARPA statement said.

For years, it has been possible to launch expendable drones from the air, without needing a ground control station, provided they do not return to an aircraft. Gremlins, by contrast, is a technical effort to engineer specially configured aerial drones able to both launch and return to a host aircraft.

The program is now moving into a phase three, according to DARPA statements, which cite a new demonstration and development deal with Dynetics to execute the upcoming launch and recovery C-130 flight.

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