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Army Going Big On Small Drones

Posted by Carlo Munoz on

Washington: Bigger might not necessarily be better when it comes to the future of Army unmanned aircraft, according to a senior service official.

Army field commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have gotten the most bang for their buck from the smaller-class of unmanned drones, like the Shadow and Puma, for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, said Deputy Program Manager for Army Unmanned Systems Tim Owings.

The ability for these smaller aerial drones to move with Army ground units, set up and deploy in rugged conditions and provide real-time intel to those units has been critical to their success in the field, particularly in the mountain valleys of Afghanistan.

DARPA, the Pentagon’s advanced weapons division, has been working on a small drone application that also doubles as a 40mm artillery munition, James Lasswell, technical director of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, said yesterday in a separate speech here.

Controlled in the same way as a Raven or a Wasp UAS, the weapon would be able to do all the ISR missions a small UAS can do, but can also be used to strike sensitive targets.

Larger, strategic-level unmanned platforms like the MQ-1C Sky Warrior, have also played a key role in the Army’s ISR operations, but the future for those aircraft lies somewhere else, Owings said yesterday during a speech at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual conference here.

The Army, according to Owing, wants the Warrior and others like it in the Army’s arsenal to do more than just ISR missions. The size, range and power of those drones allow it to do a number of missions, from acting as a communications relay between units to armed air strikes.

But the nuts and bolts ISR operations, at the unit level, rests squarely on the shoulders of the Army’s small drone fleet.

That said, the Army’s unmanned aerial fleet will likely grow over the next few years, as service officials look more toward drones as a way to cut costs.

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