Dynetics has been awarded a 21-month, $38.6 million award for the third phase of a research effort that aims to recover drones in mid-air.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Gremlins program seeks to launch and recover quantities of low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems.

Dynetics, the sole performer on Phase 3 of the contract according to the company, will deploy a towed, stabilized capture device below, and away from, a C-130. Ideally, the program will lead to less dependency on air bases in order to conduct operations.

According to an April 18 news release, the air vehicle docks with the device similar to an airborne refueling operation. Once docked and powered off, the release said, the air vehicle is raised to the C-130, where it is mechanically secured and stowed.

Mark Miller, vice president of missile and aviation systems division at Dynetics, told reporters Wednesday that the goal is to have four recoveries in 30 minutes.

To date, Miller said, Dynetics’ emphasis has been on the recovery operations demonstrating they can deploy a docking system, stabilize it and retrieve it mid-air. Additionally, they’ve been able to demonstrate launching systems from aircraft.

Miller noted that while the drone being designed for a demonstration would likely be considered small, it has a range of more than 600 miles. This can allow the aircraft to travel farther from the manned platforms for greater standoff in more contested environments.

“The unmanned air vehicles utilized in these future operations will carry a variety of different sensors and other payloads, working together to manage and conduct complex, highly adaptive operations in contested environments,” said Tim Keeter, Dynetics deputy program manager and chief engineer.

“When they complete their mission, they return to airborne manned platforms to be recovered to a forward operating base where they can be quickly refurbished and put back into the fight. The potential to overwhelm an adversary continuously with multiple volleys is tremendous.”

While Dynetics is not developing the sensors to go onto the unmanned systems, it is developing systems with the ability to carry a variety of sensors and payloads depending on the stakeholders. Miller said there are several concept designs for different payloads that they’re using to put in front of various stakeholders based on their mission sets.

Miller added this could be either a follow on to Phase 3 or a late Phase 3 parallel effort to integrate payloads of interests for specific stakeholders.

The ultimate goal is for these systems and sensors to be able to collaborate, but that portion is being handled by a different DARPA program, he said, noting the specific goal of Gremlins is to host that type of capability.