U.S. Army Private Kesley Darnelll of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, let's go of the Black Hornet PRS, as it takes off during the system's fielding at Fort Bragg, N.C., May 2, 2019. (U.S. Army Photo)
In late April and early May, soldiers from the U.S. Army 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the Ft. Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne Division received Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance Systems (PRS) — drones designed to provide platoon and squad-level intelligence on enemy units.
This summer, those soldiers are going to Afghanistan to replace the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the Ft. Drum, N.Y.-based 10th Mountain Division.
Oregon-based FLIR Systems makes the Black Hornet. In January, the company received a nearly $40 million Army award for the micro drones, which FLIR Systems says provide the "non-specialist dismounted soldier with immediate covert situational awareness" and "game-changing EO [electro-optical] and IR technology" that "bridges the gap between aerial and ground-based sensors, with the same SA [situational awareness] as a larger UAV and threat location capabilities of UGVs [unmanned ground vehicles]."
Last summer, the Army's Soldier Borne Sensor program awarded FLIR a $2.6 million contract for the delivery to Army units of the first Black Hornet systems.
The Australian Army and the French Armed Forces are among those with Black Hornet 3 systems, according to FLIR, which has delivered Black Hornet systems to 30 nations over the last seven years.
Each Black Hornet PRS has two Black Hornet 3 UAVs and a ground-based control station in what FLIR calls the world’s smallest intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) UAV. The bird-size aircraft has a rotor diameter of less than five inches and a length of under seven inches.
The Black Hornet 3 is an upgrade of earlier systems and "adds the ability to navigate in GPS-denied environments," according to FLIR.
"Extremely light, nearly silent, and with a flight time up to 25 minutes, the combat-proven, pocket-sized Black Hornet PRS transmits live video and HD still images back to the operator," according to FLIR Systems.
After the Army award to FLIR earlier this year, company President Jim Cannon said the contract "represents a significant milestone with the operational large-scale deployment of nano-UAVs into the world’s most powerful Army."
Drones have become a significant discussion point for militaries worldwide. For the United States, the possible threat of a maelstrom of enemy UAVs, such as Russian "kamikaze" drones, on future battlefields is one such item of discussion, while bolstering the capabilities of personnel and protecting them through manned-unmanned teaming is another.