Like the vast majority of advances in the history of Humanity, drones emerged from the military sphere – just like the Internet, the same as the microwave or the same as GPS. Become one of the most revolutionary technologies in the last 20 years, the drone technology that was born with devices such as the Predators or the Reapers – remote controlled pilotless aerial vehicles and used in espionage and / or elimination of targets missions -, evolves to give us flying taxis, delivery of orders directly to our window, entertainment, etc.
But it also continues to evolve within the military realm. And right now it is one of the most studied and tested fronts.
Operation 40 Switch
A Predator or a Reaper are military weapons worth literally millions of dollars; they require maintenance and pilots who must be trained for their mission. But a tiny drone for as little as a couple dozen dollars isn’t that expensive, and it can be just as useful under certain conditions.
Imagine that you are going to attack a target: The safety of your soldiers comes first, so before sending the infantry you order an air attack. But what if you reinforce that ‘airstrike’ later? Right before the soldiers advance, you deploy a bunch of tiny (and cheap) drones that load defragmentation grenades for me to launch and bombard that area a second time. Then the infantry advances.
This scenario is the one who tastes the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, United States, under the name ‘Operation 40 Switch’.
The unit, an experimental infantry battalion tasked with “testing new equipment, operational concepts and force structures,” is using the so-called ‘Drone40’: a miniaturized, low-cost, and expendable drone that can deployed by hand or launched from a 40mm grenade launcher –shooting it just like you would shoot a rifle.
Although other countries have deployed the Drone40 in overseas operations, it is the first time that US troops have been seen training with these unmanned systems, which can carry a wide variety of payloads, such as various sensors or small warheads. And, therefore, that they can change the rules of the war game.
The Drone40 was already deployed earlier this year by British Army forces conducting peacekeeping missions in the northwestern African country of Mali.
A versatile weapon
According to the site TheDrive.com, the Drone40 can fit into launchers designed to fire 40mm bullets, such as variants of the Heckler & Koch AG36 low-barreled grenade launcher, used by, among others, the United Kingdom and United States forces. So far, the British forces that brought the drones to Mali have only used hand-launched versions configured for surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The Drone40 is manufactured by Australian defense contractor DefendTex, which states that the tiny unmanned quadcopter can be equipped with a wide variety of payloads, including full motion electro-optical video cameras, electronic warfare systems and laser designators, as well as smoke or flash production systems. The Drone40 can even be configured to carry small explosive or armor-piercing warheads.
Now imagine 20, 30 or 40 of these drones deployed at the same time, and you can get an idea of their offensive and defensive capacity in the middle of a war scene.
Operate as a swarm / reusable
The drones are only seven inches long (almost 18 centimeters) and weigh less than half a pound (less than 226 grams). VSeveral Drone40s can work together as a swarm after launch, or even network with other UAS platforms to operate as a heterogeneous swarm. In addition to being deployed by hand or from a grenade launcher, a video on the DefendTex website shows the drones operating in an on-demand launch swarm mode after taking off from tubes placed on the ground.
Drones are reusable when used in such a way that they are not destroyed, and DefendTex even says they are waterproof, which could make them suitable for recovery when used on missions at sea or in bad weather.
On the website of the contractor DefendTex It is stated that the guidance and control functions of drones can be carried out by means of “integration with already deployed smart devices using readily available communications technology “ and an encrypted radio data link to a portable ground control station. In addition, the Drone40 has a GPS-based autopilot system.
Small warheads and laser aiming
The wide range of payload options that have been announced means that the Drone40 can perform many different functions. Units could launch the drones from behind cover to monitor enemy positions or even carry out attacks from above directly when equipped with the small warheads.
The laser-pointing versions could designate targets to be struck with precision-guided munitions. The smoke charge could be used to protect the movements of friendly forces, while the one designed to produce a bright flash could turn the drone into a weapon less than lethal.
The drone manufacturer claims even that swarm capabilities of the Drone40 could allow what is called “iSimultaneous multi-round pact “, or MSRI. This means thate a single soldier could launch two or more drones with explosive warheads that would remain in the air until ordered to fall on several targets at the same time.
If multiple types of warheads were deployed in a single salvo, a relatively small force of Drone40-equipped units could simultaneously attack complex and dispersed targets, such as armored vehicles and the troops in the open alongside them.
The question is, does that make us feel safer or less safe at night?