The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has contracted Kratos Defense and Security Solutions subsidiary Composite Engineering (CEi) for the first phase of its Gremlins programme.

The programme aims to demonstrate the reliable aerial launch and recovery of unmanned aircraft that can employ and recover diverse distributed payloads.

The $3.87m contract will require CEi to conduct system architecture and studies to develop a conceptual Gremlins system design.

CEi will also analyse launch and recovery techniques, develop operational concepts, and perform demonstration system design and planning for potential future phases.

Kratos unmanned systems division president Jerry Beaman said: "With this key award, CEi strengthens our presence in the emerging unmanned combat aerial systems (UCAS) market.

"The DARPA Gremlins programme is an integral part of our overall unmanned aerial systems (UAS) mission."

"The DARPA Gremlins programme is an integral part of our overall unmanned aerial systems (UAS) mission."

The new programme will also explore technical areas, such as airframe designs and high-fidelity analysis, precision digital flight control, navigation and station-keeping.

Gremlins will be launched from large aircraft, including bombers or transport aircraft, as well as fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms.

Kratos president and CEO Eric DeMarco said: "Our strategic focus is in sync with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Third Offset Strategy, which lays out the need to rapidly prototype innovative technologies to counter emerging threats and provide the United States with an asymmetric advantage over our adversaries.

"Kratos will do everything possible to make Gremlins a successful programme, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Department and the Congress as a leader in the UAS market."

Image: The Gremlins programme seeks to demonstrate safe and reliable aerial launch and aerial recovery of multiple unmanned aircraft. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.