Delivering supplies to military troops in remote combat settings is logistically challenging and often dangerous. Airdrops by plane or helicopter are disruptive and anti-aircraft weaponry can put human lives at risk. Additionally, most unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are heavy, expensive, and not always precise.
As a solution to the growing difficulty of resupply missions, the U.S. Marine Corps is testing a new type of disposable glider UAV that will eliminate the need for ground-level troops to retrieve and maintain expensive technology.
Manufactured by Logistics Gliders, the LG-1000 drone (referred to by the military as the TACAD glider) is essentially a winged cargo crate of plywood, metal fasteners, and commercial electronics. Logistics Gliders teamed with the University of California at Davis to develop the autonomous navigation technology that acts as the brain of the glider once deployed. According to Breaking Defense, the newest models are capable of carrying 1,600 pounds of cargo up to 75 nautical miles with a 25-yard landing radius. A 2012 prototype cost $600 to build, and recent versions are estimated to cost between $1,000 and $3,000.
The current U.S. military standard for resupply missions is the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS), a reusable, GPS-steered parachute dropped directly over the desired landing area. These can carry up to 10,000 pounds of material, but cost almost $30,000 each and have only a third of the range LG-1000s offer.
Each LG-1000 is designed for a single use. The drone’s wings and tails snap off upon landing—then, the eco-friendly body can be discarded.
In April, the LG-1000 underwent simulated combat testing at the Marine Corps’ 10-day experimental wargame, known as the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) 2017, at Camp Pendleton in California. The testing results have been kept confidential thus far. In the same month, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory showcased a prototype of the glider at the Sea Air Space 2017 trade show at National Harbor in Maryland.
The glider UAVs also offer potential future applications for humanitarian efforts, and could be used to deliver relief materials such as water, fuel, and medicine to low-accessibility disaster areas.