QUANTICO, Virginia — Top Marine Corps brass have said they want rifle squads to deploy with drones in the future. And if they deploy with this one, they won’t even notice the weight in their pack.
The PD-100 Black Hornet, made by Proxdynamics of Norway, redefines small when it comes to unmanned aerial vehicles. The pocket-sized black or grey birds, which look like helicopters in miniature, weigh 18 grams–the equivalent of three sheets of paper, Proxdynamics General Manager Arne Skjaerpe told Military.com. They come equipped with day or night-vision cameras and can be operated using a device reminiscent of a beige Nintendo Wii controller and an attached tablet.
It’s the smallest operational drone in the world by far, he said.
“From our perspective, this was developed to give the dismounted squad its own ISR capability,” Skjaerpe said. “That was the big idea, and still is the big idea.”
And the Marine Corps is buying. Skjaerpe said the service has already purchased a small number of the systems, which come with two birds apiece, for test and evaluation purposes. Marine infantry units got a chance to test them out twice this summer: at the Rim of the Pacific multinational exercise, and at Marine Air Ground Task Force Integrated Experiment 2016, which took place at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, in July.
How the service plans to explore the capability from here remains to be seen.
“Right now we are in a very good dialogue with [Marine Corps Combat Development Command] and the Marine Corps Warfighting Labe to see how they think they want to move forward,” Skjaerpe said. “And we, needless to say, want to offer then whatever capabilities they need.”
The systems, which cost $50-60,000 apiece, are already in use by the militaries of 19 NATO-allied countries, he said. The drones can stay in the air for up to 25 minutes and can hold a digital data link for more than a mile line-of-sight. And while complex, they’re easy to operate: Skjaerpe said a Marine could learn everything needed to launch and control the drone in two days or less.
While the Marine Corps hasn’t committed to a specific technology, the commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, has said he wants to create an assistant squad leader position in each rifle squad to operate UAVs and other technology. Marine Corps experiments with unmanned systems are expected to continue into next year and beyond.