Speed Racer: The U.S. Military’s New Drone Swarm Weapon?

Lockheed officials have announced the existence of a new, high-tech “Speed Racer” drone set to enter ground testing in the coming months, but offered little to no details about the new platform. 

Any specifics, including mission scope, weapons, sensors, or technical systems were not discussed or offered, likely for understandable security reasons, yet the existence and general plan for the new drone were announced last Fall, according to an interesting story from Aviation Week. 

A Lockheed spokeswoman did tell Aviation Week that the new “Speed Racer” is awaiting the pending delivery of small turbojet engines supplied by Technical Directions Inc. 

The project is being pursued by Lockheed’s famous, yet secretive Skunk Works division which has a decorated history of generating new cutting-edge platforms over a period of many years. 

Given this, one is left only to speculate upon the kinds of missions, weapons or external configurations likely to inform the project, yet there is little doubt that there is a fast-increasing demand for new drones and unmanned platforms. Much of this is due to several pertinent strategic and tactical nuances, including the greater advent of manned-unmanned teaming, drone swarms, AI-enabled drone autonomy and targeting and a much more dispersed, yet networked future combat environment. 

Anticipated future warfare is expected to be much more spread out geographically and between domains, necessitating a wider scope of communications between combat nodes and platforms. Also, the threat environment is changing rapidly to include new technologies and attack capacities. Air defenses detect at longer ranges, are better networked, and operate with much greater speed, enemy weapons are more autonomous and precise, and disaggregated attacks spread the threat envelope much wider than has ever been the case. 

These dynamics help explain why there is such to a need for drones of all shapes and sizes for both tactical and survivability purposes. Of course, the use of drones can keep manned pilots at safer operating distances from pressing threats, yet they provide other crucial advantages such as manned-unmanned teaming targeting and intelligence cues for human decision-makers. 

It is not clear what size, shape, or technical capacity the new “Speed Racer” may incorporate, yet all the military services are looking for new mini drones for swarming, stealthy drones for high-risk reconnaissance, and even armed attack drones to execute dangerous offensive missions. The new Speed Racer is not likely to be a group of mini drones, but could easily fall within the scope of some of these other categories. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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Kris Osborn