Leonardo, RAF demonstrate drone swarming capability

Leonardo announced on October 7 that it had successfully conducted a live trial of a ‘drone swarming’ capability with the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) at the end of July.

During the demonstration, an undisclosed number of small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – developed by Callen Lenz – were equipped with a modified version of Leonardo’s BriteCloud expendable active decoy. This gave each UAS a sophisticated jamming capability, which was tested against ground-based radar systems that were simulating enemy air defences. According to Leonardo, “the decoy packages were programmed and navigated to work collaboratively to cause maximum confusion.”

Leonardo/RAF RCO Drone Swarming Demo [Leonardo]
A number of small, unmanned aircraft systems - each equipped with modified BriteCloud expendable active decoys - proved the feasibility of the drone swarming concept during a live trial in July 2020. Leonardo

In a press release, Leonardo said: “A powerful demonstration was given, with the swarm of BriteCloud-equipped drones overwhelming the threat radar systems with electronic noise. The information gained from the demonstration will be used to inform potential future UK programmes to acquire an autonomous swarming drone capability.”

The concept of drone swarming is inspired by swarms of insects and has been recognised by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and other nations as a potentially game-changing future capability. Development is progressing rapidly, with the RAF’s RCO and Leonardo working closely with UK-based technology companies, Callen Lenz and Blue Bear, to prove an autonomous drone swarming capability.

Leonardo’s BriteCloud entered operational service with the RAF in 2018 and was originally intended to be used as a protective decoy for fighter aircraft. It is a small active self-contained Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) countermeasure that is designed to be launched from an aircraft's standard chaff and flare dispensers. The decoy is effective against active and semi-active RF seekers, as well as fire control radars, surface-to-air and air-to-air threat systems.

The company states that each BriteCloud system “can individually mimic the radar signature of the aircraft it is launched from, causing threat radar systems to track the drinks-can-sized decoy rather than the aircraft itself.”

On April 1, 2020, the RAF reformed No 216 Squadron – a former Lockheed L-1011 TriStar K1/KC1 tanker operator –at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, as an experimental unit to test future drone swarming technologies.