WASHINGTON -- The Army has plans to purchase 61 Black Hornet III small unmanned aerial systems, or SUASs, which are designed to provide reconnaissance support at squad level.
By the third quarter of next year, 57 of those systems will be fielded to a yet-unidentified Infantry brigade combat team, said Capt. WaiWah Ellison, the assistant program manager for Soldier Borne Sensors, part of Program Executive Office Soldier.
Ellison spoke during the "Close Combat Lethality Tech Day" demonstration, May 24, at the Pentagon.
The Black Hornet III can fly a distance of up to two kilometers and remain aloft for 25 minutes, she said.
The system takes color photographs and videos and can do so simultaneously, she noted. The system is also equipped with thermal imaging, which gives it night vision capability.
Most importantly, the Black Hornet III weighs less than two ounces. With Soldiers carrying so much gear, reducing their load is a top priority for everything PEO Soldier produces. Hauling around too much weight results in fatigue and reduces the ability of Soldiers to maneuver on the battlefield when dismounted, Ellison explained.
The Black Hornet III comes with a docking station, where the batteries are charged, and with a monitor, which is about the size of a tablet computer, she said. The SUAS, docking station and monitor have a combined weight of less than three pounds. While the Black Hornet III is aloft, another battery can be charged and ready when it returns.
Wireless commands and data sent between the Soldier and Black Hornet III are encrypted, Ellison said, to ensure the system is not susceptible to being hacked.
The Black Hornet III is not designed for long-term surveillance. Instead, it is designed to give Soldiers a quick look at what's ahead of them, over a hill, or on the other side of a building or wall, she explained.
After laboratory testing in early January at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland and at U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineer Center in Massachusetts, the Black Hornet III was put through its paces at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, beginning in late January. The "fly-off" gave Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, a chance to evaluate it in tactical conditions, she said.
It takes roughly 16 hours to train a Soldier on how to pilot and maintain the Black Hornet III, she said, adding that operating it is fairly intuitive.
To fly it, you hold it in your hand and rotate it 90 degrees one way then 90 degrees the other way, Ellison explained. That wakes it up and gets the rotor spinning. You also turn on the monitor and it acquires a GPS signal. The entire operation from turning everything on to flight is a bit over a minute.
During the fly-off, Ellison said Soldier feedback was positive. Soldiers liked the system's reliability, saying it went where they wanted it to go and did not lose control sequences that were transmitted to it.
Don Sheehan, Integrated Product Team Lead for Small Unmanned Aerial Systems at Naval Air Systems Command, said the Navy had observers at Fort A.P. Hill during testing, as Marines and Special Operations operators are interested in the capabilities of the Black Hornet III and are likely to purchase a number of them.
Sheehan noted that the Black Hornet III is so quiet that during testing, one Soldier was unaware that one of them was flying a few feet behind him.
Besides being stealthy, the Black Hornet III in its grey paint, is practically invisible in the forest or jungles and even if seen, could easily be mistaken for a small bird or large insect, he said.
Ellison noted that Black Hornet III is by no means the only model of SUAS that the Army is interested in. AeroVironment and InstantEye Robotics also participated in the competition and are expected to be back again with prototypes, ready for testing.
More testing of the Black Hornet III and other types of SUAS from different vendors will take place in October at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, by Soldiers from 7th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, she said.
There will be a number of industry days coming up where vendors can tout their own SUAS prototypes, she said.