DARPA has awarded Phase 1 contracts for its Gremlins swarming UAV project.

The four teams that won the contract are led by Composite Engineering, Inc., Dynetics, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, according to a DARPA announcement.

The Gremlins program aims to develop a system that will allow aircraft to launch swarms of cheap, retrievable and reusable UAVs. Phase 1 will include designing Gremlin airframes, integration of the UAVs with the launch aircraft, launch and recovery techniques, navigation, station keeping, and precision digital flight control.

"The program envisions launching groups of UASs from existing large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft — as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms — while those planes are out of range of adversary defenses," DARPA said. "When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours."

Each Gremlin would have an operational life of about 20 flights.