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Airbus Unveils A400M Drone Launcher

Proof-of-Concept Sees Carrier System Air Drop UAVs From Cargo Ramp

Airbus has made another milestone in its continued testing of the Future Combat Air System when an A400M modified with a UAV air-launch system successfully deployed a drone in-flight.

While the long running concept of an airborne aircraft carrier has eluded attempts at effective implementation in the past, the more compact size and safety of UAVs has opened new possibilities. "Drone hives" as a core element of theoretical swarm tactics -  an area of study eager to nail down a fundamental combat doctrine as technology develops. Getting drone swarms into position is no easy prospect, given their small size and limited range. Being able to send dozens of unmanned aircraft with efficient, cheap cargo aircraft like the A400 would enable more costly, advanced planes to reap the benefit of plentiful drones without having to lug them into battle themselves. In the test flight, Airbus personnel were able to connect the mothership to one of their own Do-DT25 drones, open the rear cargo ramp, and slide the drone out the rear for a successful air launch all while maintaining a command and control link between the two and their home base. The success could mean that future multi-drone deliveries could be made outside a target area for use as standoff munitions under the command of manned aircraft closer to the front. Similar ideology has stood behind similar "missile truck" designs in the past, where less stealthy and secure aircraft are able to hang back from combat and lob ordnance into the fray from afar. 

The demonstration also served to prove the Modular Airborne Combat Cloud Services (MACCS), the Airbus networking product aiming for Air Force approval throughout the EU. Continued validation testing will next aim to test the limits of large numbers of drones operating simultaneously. The A400M is capable of carrying at least 40 of the DT25's remote carrier, but that number will probably work up to with smaller batches of airborne drones. Previous tests of the drones in-flight have proven the capability of 5 DT25s in flight, receiving controls from a larger manned aircraft in the mission group, as well as a single test with a Eurofighter tasking a pair of the drones in real-time. Airbus sees a definite future with the system, judging from their integration with German Air Force exercises promoting their equipment. 



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