In what it called “collaborative unmanned air systems,” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is working on technology that will enable drones fly together  in a flock or in formation.

According to DARPA, its Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program seeks to help the U.S. military’s unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) conduct dynamic, long-distance engagements of highly mobile ground and maritime targets in denied or contested electromagnetic airspace.

CODE’s main objective is to develop and demonstrate the value of collaborative autonomy, in which UASs could perform sophisticated tasks both individually and in teams under the supervision of a single human mission commander, said DARPA.

“CODE-equipped UASs would perform their mission by sharing data, negotiating assignments, and synchronizing actions and communications among team members and with the commander,” DARPA said.

CODE’s modular open software architecture on board the UASs would enable multiple CODE-equipped unmanned aircraft to navigate to their destinations and find, track, identify, and engage targets under established rules of engagement.

The UASs could also recruit other CODE-equipped UASs from nearby friendly forces to augment their own capabilities and adapt to dynamic situations such as attrition of friendly forces or the emergence of unanticipated threats.

DARPA recently awarded Phase 2 system integration contracts for CODE to Lockheed Martin Corporation and the Raytheon Company, while six other companies will provide supporting technologies for CODE.

CODE’s prototype human-system interface (HSI) is designed to allow a single person to visualize, supervise, and command a team of unmanned systems in an intuitive manner. Mission commanders can know their team’s status and tactical situation, see pre-planned and alternative courses of action, and alter the UASs’ activities in real time, according to DARPA.

The HSI and autonomy algorithms are being developed in open architectures based on emerging standards: the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) and Unmanned Control Segment (UCS) standards used by the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, and the Open Mission Systems (OMS) and Common Mission Command and Control (CMCC) standards that the U.S. Air Force uses, DARPA said.