US Army planning to put pocket-sized drones in the hands of dismounted soldiers

Sergeant Scott Weaver, of The Queens Royal Lancers launches a Black Hornet, Nano UAV from a compound in Afghanistan.

Falling under a program called “Soldier Borne Sensors” (SBS), the plans are for The Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia to set a series of guidelines to determine what technology would best suit the needs of the program.

“We’ve had numerous studies as well as experimentation within our battle labs. We continue to see that soldiers are kind of lacking at the squad level for relevant information that’s immediately around them,” said Phil Cheatum, deputy branch chief of electronics and special developments at MCoE.

Despite the fact that UAVs have proven invaluable for larger units in the US Army, elements from the squad-level down have been denied the technological boost that the overall force has experienced.

However, it is that technology that could prove to be a lifesaving and force-multiplying tool- particularly in the arena of providing reconnaissance in confined urban areas or locations where placing a human being would prove costly.

While the idea is novel for the US Army, the technology is not. British and Norwegian forces as well as US Special Operations units have been using the micro-drones for some time. One example, the PD-100 Black Hornet, has been heavily used by British troops in Afghanistan.

Cheatum says the limitations of the program so far rests with developing tech that can economically be fielded en-masse.

“The only problem we’d have with a capability like that [is] the Black Hornet is individually handmade,” Cheatum said. “When you’re talking about individually handmade, you’re talking about an expensive piece of equipment.”

So far, requirements for the SBS are up in the air. However, the basic guidelines demand that the item be able to fit in a cargo pocket, weigh less than 1/3 of a pound, be able to launch within a minute and fly for 15 minutes. The drones must also have a good camera, be able to tolerate the wind and fly as far as 1,200 meters.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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