The US military aims to equip almost all of its ground combat units with tiny drones capable of spying on other forces in the sky.
The awarded $ 39.6 million contract has enriched the coffers of FLIR Systems, an American company based in Oregon that develops thermal imaging, surveillance and navigation technologies.
FLIR was tasked with providing the military with Black Hornet personal recognition (PRS) systems, drones small enough to sit in the palm of your hand.
UAVs, described as "high performance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems," measure only 6.6 inches and weigh less than 33 grams.
The drones have a range of 1.24 km at a maximum speed of 13.35 mph and are capable of flying up to 25 minutes with a single charge.
In addition, UAVs can take HD photos and provide live video feeds. Data sent to ground operators, equipped with a portable ground control station (GCS) unit that communicates with the drone, is encrypted in AES 256 format.
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According to FLIR, each Black Hornet can operate at temperatures ranging from -10 ° C to 43 ° C and withstand wind gusts of up to 20 knots.
The Black Hornet will be given to US platoons and small units that need surveillance capabilities when they are on the ground.
According to FLIR, the first batch of drones en route to the armed forces is part of the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) program, which provides for investment in UAVs and ground control systems.
"With a camera embedded in the plane, soldiers will be able to see further and more easily the obstacles that they could not see before almost in real time," said the US Army.
In the video below, you can see the Black Hornet take off during SBS tests.
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Although the full details or order numbers of the contract are not known, an order for 60 Black Hornets awarded in May 2018 was worth $ 2.6 million.
The ultimate goal is to set up at least one UAV and ground system for almost all 7,000 squadrons in the US Army.
"This contract is a milestone with the large-scale operational deployment of nano-UAVs in the world's most powerful army," said Jim Cannon, CEO of FLIR Systems. "This contract […] demonstrates the strong and urgent demand for FLIR's nano-UAV technology. Protecting US fighters with our unmanned solutions is a key goal for FLIR. "
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In January, the Pentagon released a report documenting the increasing use of UAVs in the United States. In 2018, 11 missions were conducted – notably during the forest fire season and after Hurricane Florence – as well as to respond to requests for support at the southern border of the army.