DARPA Selects Six Companies for Ship-Launched Drone Development

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DARPA Has Chosen Six Companies to Develop Ship-Launched Drones
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The Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected six companies to develop a lightweight drone capable of vertical takeoff and landing from ships. The chosen companies for the ANCILLARY (Advanced Aircraft Infrastructure-Less Launch and Recovery) program are AeroVironment, Griffon Aerospace, Karem Aircraft, Method Aeronautics, Northrop Grumman, and Sikorsky (a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin).

DARPA’s goal is to create a drone that can operate without large launch and recovery equipment, making it easier to deploy from Navy ships. These drones will be used for various tasks such as cargo transport, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance missions, and tracking targets beyond a ship’s line of sight.

The drones must be capable of taking off and landing like a helicopter and flying like a fixed-wing aircraft, even in adverse weather conditions.

Steve Komadina, DARPA Program Manager

Steve Komadina, DARPA program manager, stated that the ANCILLARY program aims to significantly enhance the capabilities of small vertical takeoff and landing drones. The focus is on increasing payload capacity, range, and endurance without needing specialized infrastructure.

The Navy and Marine Corps are expected to be the primary users of this technology, but it could also benefit the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and U.S. Special Operations Command. Initially, nine companies were invited to pitch their concepts for ANCILLARY, and now six have been selected to move forward.

These companies will enter a 10-month phase to refine their designs and conduct hover tests. The next phase will involve fabrication and flight testing, with formal flight tests anticipated to start in early 2026.

DARPA Ship-Launched Drone Development

Christopher Harris, Northrop’s program manager for ANCILLARY, explained that their design incorporates autonomous capabilities, vertical takeoff and landing, and long-endurance aircraft design. Their drone will carry payloads up to 60 pounds and fly up to 100 nautical miles for 20 hours, using a combination of rotors for takeoff, landing, and forward flight.

Sikorsky is testing a “rotor blown wing” design, which transitions from vertical to horizontal flight. This design aims to improve efficiency and endurance during flight. Sikorsky’s current prototype is battery-powered, but they plan to develop a hybrid electric version capable of carrying a 60-pound payload.

Method Aeronautics, in collaboration with Sierra Nevada Corp. and Bechamo, is also developing a design focused on efficient vertical takeoff and landing capabilities for Group 3 drones, which weigh under 1,320 pounds and fly up to 250 knots.

These developments are part of DARPA’s efforts to advance drone technology for military applications, enhancing the operational capabilities of U.S. forces.