The US Army wants to build an autonomous drone charging system

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The US Army is looking to build an autonomous charging system that can support hundreds of drones. It has funded a four-year research project with the ultimate aim of kitting out ground-based vehicles with charging stations that swarms of drones can fly to by themselves. 

The University of Illinois Chicago landed an $8 million contract from the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. Researchers will work on a system that will enable small drones to determine the location of the closest charging station, travel there and juice up before returning to their mission. The university is working on algorithms to help the drones determine the best route to a charging port. 

“Imagine in the future, the Army deploying a swarm of hundreds or thousands of unmanned aerial systems,” Dr. Mike Kweon, program manager for the Army Research Laboratory’s Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion Essential Research Program, said in a press release. “Each of these systems has only roughly 26 minutes with the current battery technologies to conduct a flight mission and return to their home before they lose battery power, which means all of them could conceivably return at the same time to have their batteries replaced.”

Without the charging stations, soldiers would need to carry thousands of batteries on missions, which really isn’t a viable option. Using an autonomous recharging system would also mean soldiers wouldn’t have to swap out batteries manually, freeing them up for other tasks.

Army-funded researchers will also develop mini fuel-level sensors for larger drones. This would allow future drones that could partially run on petrol to detect when they’re running low on fuel, according to DroneDJ. The devices could then return to base to refuel or recharge before they run out of juice.

“This research is critical not only for air vehicles


MQ-9 Reaper Drone Flies with Double Hellfire Missiles in New Test

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A new software update on the MQ-9 Reaper allows the hunter-killer drone to carry eight AGM-114 Hellfire missiles — double its usual capacity, according to a service release.

As part of “Operational Flight Program 2409,” members of the 556th Test and Evaluation month with the increased payload. The MQ-9 typically carries four Hellfires total under its wings. Squadron, Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, flew the unmanned autonomous vehicle earlier this

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With the upgrade, Hellfires pylons that previously were reserved for 500-lb. bombs, such as the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition, or for fuel tanks, can now carry the additional missiles, the release said.

“History has proven the MQ-9’s ability to provide aerial continuity and attack support for air and ground forces during counter-insurgency and Close Air Support,” Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, commander of the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, said in the release.

“Doubling the firepower of this high-endurance aircraft with Hellfires improves the lethality and agility of the MQ-9 over many combat roles, with an arsenal of highly versatile, accurate, and collateral-friendly weapons for all combatant commanders.”

The MQ-9 has a payload of 3,750 pounds and carries a combination of Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 JDAMs, according to the service.

Master Sgt. Melvin French, Test System Configuration Manager for the program, explained that the MQ-9’s weapons load remains flexible, because munitions can be swapped in and out to fit the mission.

“Aside from the extra hardware required to be on-hand, no other changes are required to support this new capability and added lethality,” French said in the release.

The latest news follows another recent exercise in which the Air Force tested whether airmen at multiple locations could coordinate to execute the same