Tiny drones, known as Perdix, that are 3D-printed using Kevlar and carbon fiber have been created by students at MIT. Each drone comes with spring-loaded carbon fiber wings, a low-drag fiber glass fuselage, a custom pusher propeller and a lithium polymer battery pack. Each drone is roughly the size of an iPhone 6 and weighs approximately 1 lb.
Though MIT students invented and created the idea for the Perdix drones, the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) took the drones and created a way for warplanes to use them. Led by physicist William Roper, the SCO team began running trials with the Perdix craft back in 2014 before undergoing the full-scale testing seen in Alaska last year. The end goal is to make the Perdix system much more effective and cost-friendly than traditional Miniature Air-Launch Decoys.
During tests, the drones exit a host fighter jet via small canisters outfitted with parachutes. During the descent, the canisters slowly unleash the drones, allowing each Perdix to spread its wings and begin flying entirely on its own. According to deputy defense secretary Bob Work, the Perdix drone has the potential to carry various payloads and possesses the capability to communicate with its entire swarm while flying. “Just imagine an airplane going in against an IAD (Integrated Air Defense) system and dropping 30 of these out that form into a network and do crazy things,” Work said. “We’ve tested this. We’ve tested it and it works.” There’s no timetable set for the drones to be used full-time by the Air Force, but the Pentagon plans on continuing testing throughout 2016. If the Perdix continues to display a high level of effectiveness while keeping its operating costs relatively low, it’s likely they’ll be prevalent aboard F-16s.