On Jan. 9, 2019, the Army revealed that the Soldier Sensors and Lasers (SSL) division of Rock Island Arsenal’s Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (RIA-JMTC) had delivered the first 60 complete Black Hornet systems to unspecified units. Then, on Jan. 24, 2019, FLIR Systems announced it had received a contract worth up to $39.6 million to deliver thousands more of the drones to the service, along with associated equipment, in the coming years.
The palm sized Prox Dynamics’ PD-100 Black Hornet only weighs in at 16 grams. With a flight time of nearly a half an hour, it can venture out both vertically and horizontally, into villages and buildings, to provide real time intelligence via streaming video from any of its three cameras. Because of its quiet electronic motors and small size, the little spy drone is almost completely undetectable.
“The equipment is getting smaller and the reason it’s getting smaller is so the Soldier can be equipped with this,” Sunny Koshal, the chief of the Soldier Support Branch at RIA-JMTC said in an official interview in January 2019. “This thing, you can really pocket it and just carry it.”
The latest Black Hornet 3, which FLIR Systems also calls the Personal Reconnaissance System (PRS), weighs less than a tenth of a pound and is just under seven inches long. The complete system comes with a docking station for two drones that keeps them protected when not in use, as well as a hand-held touchscreen device and a controller.
During nighttime operations, the drone fuses the feeds from both its electro-optical the thermal imaging system to create higher fidelity imagery. This makes it easier for the operator to positively identify individuals as hostile, rather than just innocent bystanders, or otherwise examine other objects of interest in the dark.
Pocket-sized drones are set to be introduced to the battlefield as a way of spying on enemy forces.
Flir Systems says the drone is so small that it is almost impossible to see or hear even when close to what it is studying. The electric, twin-rotor drone can fly for 25 minutes, stay connected to an operator 1.2 miles away and travel at 21km/h in temperatures as high as 43C.
It sends live video and high-definition images back to the operator, using a thermal imaging camera by night. The latest version sends information via an encrypted link approved by the US military.
The drones are controlled by an operator with a touchscreen display but can also follow a set route, returning as programmed or on demand.
The Black Hornet also uses its cameras and artificial intelligence to learn as it flies, building up a picture of obstacles, such as trees, that it should avoid or fly around. This helps it to determine its relative position when indoors, where a control signal may be blocked.