By Brett Gillin
It’s four inches long, one inch wide, weighs just over half an ounce, and it could be changing the face of warfare. The U.S. military is involved in testing the PD-100 Black Hornet 2 drones, miniature flying robots capable of flying for nearly a half-hour and covering distance of two miles, all while streaming live video back to the soldier. These drones can either be manually controlled or set to follow GPS coordinates, and Special Forces should be extremely excited about the possibilities that these stealthy drones open for them.
Prox Dynamics, a Norwegian company, originally designed the Black Hornets, and the British military has been using them in operations for two years. One of the most significant uses by the British has been in Afghanistan, where they’ve used the drones to scout out terrain and locate snipers according to Fox News. Now, U.S. Special Forces has received some of these devices and are testing out their full capabilities.
According to Business Insider, the drones carry a hefty price tag of $40,000 each (if ordered in bulk), but when one takes into account that the Pentagon has stated their desire to spend nearly $3 billion on various unmanned systems in the next fiscal year, it’s easy to see these fitting into the budget.
The Black Hornet requires no assembly and is small enough to fit into nearly any soldier’s pack. With top speeds of around 10 miles per hour, combined with the super-small size and nearly silent operation, the drone can be nearly undetectable in the field.
The interest in the Black Hornet meshes well with the Pentagon’s fascination with miniature drones over the last couple years. In fact, along with the military looking to develop their own version of the Black Hornet, according to this official release, they have also been experimenting with a number of other small drones.
Take for example the CICADA, or Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft, that the Naval Research Laboratory debuted last month. The miniature UAVs operate much like robotic carrier pigeons and are designed to be dropped en-mass in the battlefield. With thousands of these $250 drones being dropped over land or sea, it would be nearly impossible for enemy radar to detect or differentiate one from another. While they’re designed as gliders, rather than self-propelled drones like the Black Hornet, they can be equipped with microphones and magnetic sensors to detect troop movement or even the location of enemy submarines.
The LOCUST project from the Office of Naval Research promises a similar “power in numbers” approach, but these drones are designed to literally swarm their targets and can deliver strikes autonomously. According to The Washington Post, these drones are designed to overwhelm their target with up to 30 of the UAVs operating in tandem, circling and attacking their targets.