Black hornet drone

Army fills in details on micro drone RFI

The Army has provided more details on the Soldier Borne Sensors (SBS) micro drones it hopes to issue for individual soldiers.

One of the barriers to wide implementation into squads is cost.  Unlike the much smaller British army, which has integrated similar micro drones into its ranks, the larger U.S. military buys in bulk.  The thumb-size Black Hornet drones used by the British are made by hand, which would make large quantity buys expensive.

In addition to various operational capabilities mentioned in the original request for information – such as flight ceilings of 1,000 meters, flight duration from 10 to 15 minutes as well as day and night camera capability -- noise mitigation is another important factor being considered, Col. Phil Cheatham said at a March 22 media roundtable at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The Army wants these micro drones to be as quiet as bumblebees so they do not alert adversaries. They must also operate on military-only radio frequencies, both in the United States and overseas, Cheatham, the deputy branch chief of the Electronics and Special Developments Branch at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, said. The systems should be easy to learn and operate, and they should be able to recover from human or machine error.

While one of the best things the Army can do to refine the requirements is get prototypes into the hands of soldiers, Cheatham said, industry must also play a large role.  The drones will be purchased through the Soldier Enhancement Program, which quickly procures and tests commercial off the shelf items to see if they can make a difference to soldiers. The program is “an extremely cost-effective way to try out and test new technologies,” Lt. Col. Timothy Fuller, the SBS assistant product manager, said. The Army will likely make limited purchases of SBS candidates over the next year or two and then move forward on larger-scale buys in fiscal year 2018, he said.

Small and large businesses are invited to participate in industry days – the next of which is April 12 – to discuss with the Army opportunities to build SBS leading to a request for proposal. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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