The most recent attempt, from the Rube Goldberg wing of the NRL, is designed like the abandoned-equipment version of a Russian nesting doll to allow tiny spy drones to cross the airspace of countries that are friendly, but not friendly enough to allow U.S. drones to fly through their airspace (meaning Pakistan).
The cluster-drop starts with a huge weather balloon with a smallish Tempest drone tied by its tail to the bottom of the balloon.
The balloon rises as high as 60,000 feet – high enough that even countries with anti-aircraft radar networks will generally perceive them only as space junk, signal interference or a really ambitious flock of ducks.
With careful timing, precise weather prediction and intensive sessions of body english, the drone engineers force the balloon far enough into foreign airspace that it can release the Tempest – a drone with a 10-foot wingspan and 10-pound payload.
The Tempest flies as far as it can – about 30 nautical miles – before dropping its payload of two even smaller drones named Thing 1 and Thing 2.
More properly known as Cicada, the Thing drones fly to the limit of their range of about 11 miles, and set down, in tests, within 15 feet of their target locations. (Cicada stands for Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft.)
Theoretically, they could then use onboard cameras to keep an eye on the long grass and sticks in which they'll find themselves stuck, though they might get a close-up picture of enemy boots or a tank tread before the signal mysteriously disappears.
Not surprisingly, this series of unlikely coincidences has not yet been deployed in the field, though NRL threatens to do so, even mentioning the launch platform could be "manned or unmanned balloons," though who NRL might get to board and pilot the thing remains a mystery.
If the whole thing actually works, and is as stealthy as NRL believes it can be, the whole thing will remain a mystery.
But then, if it doesn't work – far more likely – it will stay a mystery, anyway.
So, take my advice, and just forget about the whole thing. It's too silly to think about anyway.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.