Coyotes generally come in packs, not swarms.
But Raytheon is advancing its small Coyote unmanned aircraft for a Navy program that envisions “swarms” of smart drones that can perform intelligence and reconnaissance missions, and someday perhaps deliver weapons.
This week, the Pentagon announced that Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems won a $29.7 million contract to build prototype aerial drones for the Navy’s Low Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program.
The LOCUST program aims to develop swarms of low-cost, unmanned aerial vehicles that can be launched in swarms and fly in formation to gather intelligence or collectively attack a target.
Work under the Office of Naval Research contract will be performed in Tucson, for completion by January 2020, according to a Defense Department contract notice.
The contract Raytheon was awarded was competitively bid under a long-range “broad agency announcement” the Navy and Marine Corps, and proposals will be received throughout the year, the Pentagon said.
Raytheon already has demonstrated mass launches and coordinated flights of its expendable Coyote UAVs, which are 3 feet long and weigh about 13 pounds. They reportedly cost about $15,000 each, a fraction of the cost of current reusable drones.
In 2016, Raytheon and the Office of Naval Research used a battery of tube launchers to fire off a swarm of 30 Coyotes that flew in formation and demonstrated autonomous flight.
Raytheon also has supplied Coyotes to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has launched them into hurricanes to gather and transmit weather data.
The Coyote has a strong Tucson pedigree.
The drone was originally developed along with others by Advanced Ceramics Research Inc., which was founded by University of Arizona engineering grad Tony Mulligan. The company worked with the Office of Naval Research on a project to develop autonomous, intelligent UAVs in the early 2000s.
Advanced Ceramics Research was acquired by defense giant BAE Systems in 2009, which then sold it back to one of the former owners in 2013 under the name Sensintel.
Raytheon acquired Sensintel in 2015 and folded the company into its Missile Systems business in Tucson.
The company also has developed a field-portable, long-range reconnaissance drone called the Silver Fox that has been used by the Marine Corps and the Air Force.
Separately, Raytheon BBN in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop technology to direct and control swarms of small, autonomous air and ground vehicles.
Tech expo set
The Arizona Technology Council and the Arizona Commerce Authority will present the Sixth Annual Southern Arizona Tech + Business Expo on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the Tucson Convention Center
Registration is open via the council’s website, www.aztechcouncil.org, and sponsorships are available for the event, which will run from 1 to 6 p.m. and is expected to include about 40 exhibitors and some 400 attendees.
Get your tickets early. Earlybird registration is $25 for Tech Council members or $35 for non-members through Sept. 19, but after that it will cost $20 more.