Technologies are becoming less and less demand from them. A phenomenon that can be observed in almost all manifestations of our lives. This trend is particularly noticeable in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The term “micro-UAVs” is still awaiting its exact definition. Compared to the larger drones that are commonly used in reconnaissance and combat operations, significantly smaller models, ranging from palm-sized systems to those launched from the shoulder, are usually equipped with an electric motor and, at best, are able to hold themselves in the air for an hour or two. There are several different terms for defining small-sized UAVs, ranging from “nano”, “micro” to “mini”, but in general they belong to the family of tactical unmanned vehicles that can be quickly deployed to perform short-term observation.
The smallest system employed by the US military in daily operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is the Wasp-III manufactured by AeroVironment. Experts refer it to a mini-UAV, because the first version of the system had a weight less than half a kilo without a payload and the length of 380 mm. The Wasp-III UAV took part in the operations of the Air Force and the Marine Corps, but later, in the 2012 year, it was modernized and received the designation Wasp-AE (All Environment). According to the manufacturer, the duration of the flight of the device is only 50 minutes, weight 1,3 kg, length 760 mm and wingspan one meter. The company claims that the manual-launched Wasp-AE drone "is virtually undetectable, and its stabilized opto-electronic station can transmit images even with strong wind." The machine sits on the water and the ground in the mode of deep stalling; It can be controlled manually or programmed for autonomous operation using GPS coordinates. One of the tasks of the Wasp-AE mini-UAV is to work in support of micro-UAV operations.
Wasp-AE / III emerged from a joint project of AeroVironment and the Advanced Defense Research Authority (DARPA) to develop a portable front-end system that would complement the larger Raven drone RQ-11А / В Raven developed by the same company. DARPA and AeroVironment, as part of the Nano Air Vehicle project, analyzed the possibility of using ultra-small UAVs, after which the Directorate instructed the company to develop a remote-controlled version the size of a hummingbird. The BLAH, introduced in 2011, had to replicate a hummingbird, reproducing the physical parameters of this bird, capable of flying in any direction, so that it would be extremely difficult for an opponent to detect it. The project received an innovation prize, but since 2011 there has been very little information regarding the development and applicability of such systems, and AeroVironment, in turn, was unable to comment on the work being done in this area. According to the author of the project, the micro-UAV, shot in the thriller “Eyes in the sky” 2015, is a copy of a drone-hummingbird, developed by DARPA and AeroVironment.
Wasp-AE - the smallest UAV on the balance of the US military. It is widely used in daily operations, as its stabilized opto-electronics cope even with strong winds.
As seen in the Wasp-AE / III, drones for military use are becoming smaller. Following this trend, the US Army and the Marine Corps conducted an evaluation test and adopted the Palm-sized Black Hornet system developed by Prox Dynamics and FLIR Systems. Most of the UAV is associated with the British army, which adopted this system in 2015 year. The Black Hornet single rotor nano-UAV is highly valued by the British military for its ability to provide short-term covert surveillance in populated areas. FLIR Systems, which supplied Lepton with optoelectronics, refuses to disclose sales information and how it will promote it in new markets, although Vice President Kevin Tucker gave some comments on this issue in November 2016. “All generations of Black Hornet have our Lepton specific intelligence station on board, which combines thermal and optical-electronic sensors that allow soldiers to see in complete darkness, through smoke or an aerosol curtain,” said Tucker. “Such opportunities are essential for many customers, and in response to this, Prox Dynamics and FLIR Systems seek to expand their extremely effective collaborative collaboration.”
He added that the Black Hornet is revolutionary in many ways, primarily due to the fact that this smallest and lightest UAV is able to lift a weight equivalent to three sheets of paper. Black Hornet is equipped with one main propeller, the flight duration is of the order of 25 minutes, the maximum speed of 40 km / h, it can fly away from the base station, without losing communication with it, by one mile. One complex consists of two devices, that is, while one is on charge, the second is flying. "The Black Hornet is a flying sensor rather than a drone, since it is a highly efficient aircraft designed to move optical-electronic sensors ... This is a typical personal touch system, since the entire set is easily transported by one person, and its deployment is a matter of just a few seconds." ". FLIR Systems reported that Black Hornet is being used by more than 12 military customers, including the US Army and the Marine Corps and the British Department of Defense, but little technical information is available on this topic. Supposedly, Norway and Australia also operate this system, or at least conducted its assessment tests.
Unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Black Hornet have traditionally attracted the interest of special forces, but now more and more of these devices are being delivered to ordinary units and border control agencies. Mr. Tucker of FLIR Systems noted that this type of UAV is actually replacing other drone options. aviation. UAVs flying overhead to gather intelligence can simply attract the attention of an enemy nearby, but with micro-UAVs such as the Black Hornet, the data necessary to enter a dangerous area can be collected unnoticed, since it is quite difficult to visually detect . “Instead of entering the village with minimal information, a soldier equipped with a Black Hornet can deploy him at a safe distance, fly him over buildings and obstacles using daytime and / or thermal imaging cameras,” added Tucker. “They can control its flight without revealing their location, collect important real-time video information and then, having a much better knowledge of the situation, complete the task of penetrating into a given area ... Black Hornet is an integral tool of a modern battlefield and various covert operations, and the customers who use it today understand how important it is for individual soldiers and small groups. ”
Another area that is being studied by the US military is the massive deployment of micro-UAVs from a manned aircraft. In October, 2016, the Strategic Opportunity Agency, traditionally engaged in defense research, unveiled XDUMX deployment of Perdix UAVs developed by the Lincoln Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with three US Navy F / A-103Е / F Super Hornet fighter (video below). In cooperation with the command of the naval aviation systems, the Agency demonstrated “one of the largest flocks of microdrones”. As stated in the press release of the Ministry of Defense, "a concept that, ultimately, will be used to break through the enemy's air defense." This is due to the fact that a large number of such UAVs are great for breaking through integrated air defense systems, they fill the zone, thus disrupting the radar and helping to hide the attacking aircraft. As stated in a press release, “Microdrones have demonstrated the behavior of a developed pack, for example, collective decision making, adaptive group flight and self-healing.” Perdix UAVs are programmed in advance, rather than for individual flight, but for collective flight, adapting to each other “like a swarm of bees in nature”. Due to the complex nature of the fighting, Perdix drones are not programmed for the synchronous flight of individual vehicles, it is a collective organism that shares the distributed brain to make decisions and adapt to each other. “As each Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix drone, the pack does not have a leader and can independently adapt to drones entering or leaving the group.”
Demonstration of uniting in a pack of Perdix drones. fighters, shed light on the US Department of Defense’s vision of how to break through the enemy’s defenses
However, some manufacturers do not see a particular need to develop very small UAVs and instead focus on mini-systems. Israel Aerospace Industries, whose Malat division is developing well-known UAVs, for example, the Heron MALE family category (Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance - medium altitude and long duration of flight), does not focus on systems smaller than the mini category. The director of this division, Dan Beechman, said that the Birdeye-400 drone weighing 5,3 kg is the smallest system in the company's portfolio, since it meets all market needs. “I believe that our model Birdeye-400 is in demand by defense and law enforcement agencies and, most likely, we will remain in this niche in the future. We have always tried to keep abreast and study market demands, we try to satisfy requests with maximum efficiency ... We believe that we have all the opportunities to constantly improve the system, add more features and keep dimensions at the same time. Since we are engaged in UAVs, we must improve the onboard equipment and increase the capabilities of the systems to perform various tasks. ”
Both mini-UAVs, Birdeye-400 and Birdeye-650, are popular not only in Israel, but also in many other countries. “We are trying to maintain the relevance of the system through continuous improvement, and in this process, high capacity batteries are not the last,” said Bichman. “We started with a flight duration of less than an hour, and now we’ve come to an hour and a half with the same configuration.” He added that in the “mini” category, customers are looking for a small-sized system that could be carried in a shoulder bag and “they are satisfied with our achievements.” These two small systems can carry a small kilogram and a half kilogram payload, and their flight duration is 1,5 hours and 5 hours, respectively.
BirdEye-400 is the smallest UAV in the IAI portfolio. According to her management, it meets all the needs of the market, which currently has no special demand for smaller systems.
Currently, there is a process of reducing the size of the onboard equipment, which, according to Bichman, allows integrating either more sensors into one UAV, or allows smaller drone to carry equipment that was previously intended solely for larger vehicles. “We see a clear trend, the technology helps to reduce the size of the payload, so we can hang more systems on a specific system or install sensors on smaller systems. With the exception of nanosystems, mini- and mini-UAVs are not exclusively the prerogative of the military, since many commercial and amateur systems fall into similar weight categories. Take the family of DJI's UAV Phantom, quadcopters of this manufacturer have become synonymous with non-state, professional and amateur use, unmanned vehicles. These commercial, but, nevertheless, functional small-sized UAVs can be bought at a price of the order of 1000 dollars. However, the availability of this technology means that it is open for hacking and in the wrong hands can turn into weapon.
Smart technologies can give advantages to their forces, but in the hands of terrorist groups, commercial systems turn into weapons. This mainly refers to the quadrocopters of the Phantom family, which the IS militants have adapted to drop grenades
The Western coalition led by the United States in the fight against the Islamic State grouping (IG, banned in the Russian Federation) is used by armed drones, mainly the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper model belonging to the MALE category. Militants IG also have extensive experience in the use of UAVs, but somewhat smaller. The network has a video of the use of the modified UAV Phantom, which was adapted for dropping grenades at the coalition forces and civilians in Iraq and Syria. This means that the coalition forces are forced to fight not only with the IS infrastructure and its militants, they must also determine, monitor and neutralize self-made armed mini-UAVs.
It is noteworthy that the use of the IG drone to transfer and drop explosives has a negative impact on the combat capability of the coalition forces deployed in Iraq and Syria, assisting these countries in the fight against a terrorist organization. According to the Center for Combating Terrorism, based at the US Military Academy at West Point, the first case of a deadly attack of this type was recorded in October 2016. “In early October, two Kurdish soldiers were killed, inspecting an unknown drone. The group has been armed with drones for a long time and is experimenting with them, this case became the first successful application of the BLA and perhaps this practice will become widespread and such incidents may become more frequent in the coming months, years and decades. ” While professional systems are somehow protected from malicious hacking, the technologies of amateur UAVs themselves are not so advanced to protect themselves from attacks, so the risks that these technologies bear should not be underestimated.
If dropping a grenade is a threat, the use of chemical or biological weapons from small-sized UAVs can be horrendous in consequences, and an IG is an organization that seeks to use everything that can reach and that in its opinion can cause at least some damage. . The Center’s statement also states that “the use of drones to some extent complicated only some conflicts, but the use of this technology by various kinds of rebels should significantly change or transform the course of any conflict.”
While micro-UAVs and mini-UAVs have been used in several military operations for several years, in particular in the military interventions of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the opportunities they offer appear to have not been fully explored. Only the most technologically advanced countries, mostly members of NATO, are armed with such miniature military systems, such as the Black Hornet, although many armies seek to obtain such technologies that greatly simplify the conduct of combat operations in populated areas.
The smallest of the known military UAVs, the Black Hornet, is most often associated with the British army, although Australia, Norway and the United States also operate similar devices.
One of the reasons why countries do not have such systems in service is their cost. After all, all the necessary technologies must be “crammed” into a miniature shell, although the process of moving the computing power of a desktop computer into an ubiquitous smartphone indicates that, ultimately, the price noose in the near future can be successfully unleashed. Another reason for the lack of frequent use of mini-, micro- and nano-UAVs may be a banal deficiency of these systems. These three categories are often incorrectly combined into one, but the capabilities of different systems, for example, Black Hornet and Birdeye-400, are somewhat different, indicating, thus, the absence of acceptable solutions that can meet the needs of the entire market. For example, the Black Hornet drone is designed for use by special forces and ground forces seeking to quickly get a picture of a potentially dangerous area to which they will enter, while Birdeye-400 with a flight time of one and a half hours allows longer (though again insufficient) observation beyond the terrain.
One of the trends emerging in this market is the replacement of other types of UAVs with these small-sized vehicles, which resembles the process of replacing traditional aviation with unmanned systems. Despite the fact that some specialists may not see the advantages of unmanned systems that undertake dangerous tasks that manned platforms traditionally solved, autonomy is now generally a favorite topic of the military in many countries around the world. Operators do not just agree that drones limit their capabilities, they are looking for new ways to improve the efficiency of their unmanned aircraft. Dimensions and relatively low visibility are the most attractive characteristics of a micro-UAV, since they allow ordinary subunits and special forces to quickly establish observation of the area of the upcoming operation, because otherwise it is simply risky to enter there without prior reconnaissance.
It is safe to say that as the development and reduction of the cost of micro-UAV technology, armies of many countries, and not only the first row, will be able to afford to adopt such systems. But, unfortunately, as the realities of our time show, extremist organizations of various persuasions can "catch up" with them.
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