The Department of Defense has awarded Silent Arrow, the maker of an autonomous cargo delivery drone, with a $2.2 million dollar contract to test the vehicle over the next year. The contract was announced last week and will include testing in tandem with a Special Operations Command exercise later this year.

“We’d like to thank the Joint Chiefs and J7 for their confidence in awarding this seminal program,” Silent Arrow Founder and CEO Chip Yates said in the release. “We are looking forward to leaning in with our mission partners and delivering these disruptive capabilities to the warfighter to create a logistical advantage while reducing physical threats to those operating in harm’s way.”

“The $2.2M contract win resulted from the Pentagon-based Joint Staff (J7 Joint Force Development Directorate) partnering with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and one of its theater components, in order to fund a series of advanced operational demonstrations and Concept of Operations (CONOPs) development activities for Silent Arrow’s flagship product, the GD-2000,” the company said in a press release.

Silent Arrow is the designer and manufacturer of the GD-2000, which is the subject prototype for the tests. The GD-2000 launches from a transport airplane (nominally a C130) and can autonomously deliver 1,600 pounds of cargo for ranges up to 40 miles from the launch point. A 2021 video from the company shows the Silent Arrow in operation, which has already completed demonstration flights across the globe.

The GD-2000 drones are actually unpowered gliders, providing a tactical advantage for delivery of payloads to battlefields. The company has stated it will also offer an electric version of the aircraft with the capability to takeoff and land on improvised airfields. The 40 mile delivery range of the GD-2000 is also advantageous for keeping larger cargo planes out of direct combat zones, which is a major disadvantage of traditional parachute payloads.

Why it matters: Autonomous eVTOL and UAS applications for military use are promising and offer opportunities to innovate on the battlefield and elsewhere. The use of autonomy not only reduces risk to manned delivery systems, but also paves the way to develop robust control programs for use in the public and commercial sectors too.

Posted by Ross Piscoran