Going into a war zone without knowing what’s ahead of you is like sky diving without a parachute; your chance of surviving is pretty slim and none in that exact order. Scouting the enemy was the traditional role of horse Cavalry until the early 20th Century and then aircraft and mechanized vehicles evolved into that role. Now, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are becoming the eyes of not only the army but also the small units that make up an army.  The problem is, these UAVs (or drones), like General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, are extremely large, and can be shot down like manned aircraft. And there just aren’t enough Reapers to assign one to every infantry platoon or squad moving on in a battlespace.

The Birth of the Black Hornet Spy Drone

Black Hornet Spy Drone. U.S. Army Soldier PFC Madaleyva, Xavier assigned to Alpha Company “Sapper” 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, conducts training on the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS). The FLIR System’s Black Hornet 3 (BH3) allows soldiers to deploy the BH3 micro drone to directly ascertain situational awareness and gain and maintain contact with obstacles/danger areas where a soldier cannot physically reconnoiter. DVIDS photo

In late 2018, the US Army debated on equipping their infantry division with pocket-sized drones to help preserve the lives of the soldiers and minimize collateral damage on the battlefield. So they did.

With the help of Oregon-based FLIR Systems who developed the nano-drone, Black Hornet was born. It looks like a small helicopter that measures only 6.6 inches across and weighs around 33 grams— small enough to be held with one hand or kept on a utility belt. Don’t be deceived by its size, though, as it can fly at 21.48 km/hr for up to 25 minutes. This drone is also sturdy and can withstand temperatures between -10 to 43 degrees Celcius.

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, on Dec. 17, 2019. DVIDS photo

What’s a drone for if it does not provide surveillance? The Black Hornet transmits “live video and HD still images back to the operator,” according to FLIR’s website. It is also nearly silent. Plus, soldiers cannot only utilize it on the battlefield but also during rescue operations brought by disasters and calamities.

 

How Much is This Nano-Drone?

FLIR Systems sold Black Hornet to the US Army for $39.6 million in 2018. Still, according to FLIR’s website, they have since then sold more than $85 million worth of this nano-UAV. Just this year, they announced that they won an additional $15.4 million contract to deliver more Black Hornet 3 Personal Reconnaissance Systems (PRS) to the U.S. Army. Roger Wells, FLIR’s VP and General Manager of Unmanned Systems & Integrated Solutions said, they were “honored the Black Hornet plays an integral part in the Army’s Soldier Borne Sensor program. Every new order is a testament to the difference this technology can make on the battlefield and renews our commitment to advancing the science.”

Yes, we know the Black Hornet isn’t black in this image. This must be the Navy version in haze gray. Photo; Teledyne Flir

 

Black Hornet in Action

The paratroopers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, used the Black Hornet for the first time when they were deployed in Kabul, Afghanistan, for their mission to support bilateral counterterrorism with the Afghans and to build up and support Afghan security forces.

“This kind of technology will be a life-saver for us because it takes us out of harm’s way while enhancing our ability to execute whatever combat mission we’re on,” stated Sgt. Ryan Subers in the Army press release. He was one of the operators being trained on the system.

Sgt. Dalton Kruse, another operator, said that the drone was “easy to pick up and fly, very user-friendly, and I can already tell that this system will benefit my unit downrange.”

We think the actual advancement in this type of “pocket” drone is how to prevent it from being crushed or otherwise mangled beyond use in the pocket of the average infantryman in the field. “How do we keep the average Army Private from destroying this thing in his pocket?” may have been the toughest question to answer in developing the Black Hornet.

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