Military Embedded Systems

DARPA chooses Raytheon to develop wireless airborne energy-relay web


December 14, 2023

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

DARPA chooses Raytheon to develop wireless airborne energy-relay web
Graphic courtesy DARPA

ARLINGTON, Va. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Raytheon a two-year, $10 million contract to design and develop a wireless airborne-relay system to deliver energy into contested environments as part of its Energy Web Dominance program.

According to the DARPA announcement,the agency seeks to create what it calls the Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay (POWER) system -- able to power anything from nearly anywhere -- using a series of high-altitude uncrewed aerial systems (UASs) equipped with laser-based power receiving and transmitting capabilities.

Under the DARPA/Raytheon plan, energy will be beamed up to high altitude and relayed across however many jumps are necessary to reach the target area; the target could be on the ground or another UAS, in which case it could remain in the air as long as it needed as its batteries could be charged remotely. 

A group of such power-relaying UASs could enable the POWER system to create an "energy web" that military logisticians can use to route energy where it's most needed at a moment's notice. DARPA officials describe it as a "supply line in the sky, capable of giving land, sky, or sea-based robots indefinite endurance, or sending the same energy elsewhere if it's strategically necessary."

Col. Paul Calhoun, POWER program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said of the plan: "The military faces particularly acute energy challenges, which are driving this innovation. We often must operate far from established energy infrastructure and rely on liquid fuels that require precarious supply lines."

DARPA's announcement acknowledged the reality of power loss during all the relaying and converting, but notes that a lot of energy is already spent moving liquid fuel around, from refineries to tankers to trucks; moreover, an airborne supply like POWER would eliminate the personnel risk normally involved with moving energy around in a war zone.


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U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

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