Army testing ‘pocket-sized’ drones that could soon be in the hands of every squad

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Soldiers with the New York National Guard are currently testing “pocket-sized” drones that the Army hopes will one day be commonplace across its force.

New York National Guard soldiers became the first unit of its kind to train with the Black Hornet 3 drone, a mini unmanned aircraft that can fly about 24 minutes and requires minimal equipment to operate, according to a report from Task & Purpose.

The tiny drones, which have already deployed with units such as the Army’s legendary 82nd Airborne Division, are small and lightweight enough that a single soldier can carry the drone, controller, and batteries needed to operate the system as part of their standard combat load. Once in the air, the device can transmit live video and HD still images of the surrounding area.

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Some active duty units started using the drones in 2019 and Special Forces teams in Afghanistan had them a few years prior to that. The Army hopes that the tiny devices will soon be in the hands of all 7,000 of its squads, the report notes.

“Instead of a team making direct visual contact, this system can help a team monitor a named area of interest or area that they would otherwise be unable to due to terrain, time, or enemy disposition. The drones will also limit the possibility of our personnel from being decisively engaged by the enemy by reducing the chance of direct or indirect fire contact,” Lt. Col. Gary Barney, commander of the 27th IBCT’s 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry Regiment, told Task & Purpose.

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New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Andy Huang noted after the training that the drones were “small and lightweight, and with how high it can go, you can’t really hear it.”

“So, you can recon a lot of stuff, and the bad guys can’t see it,” Huang said.

While the drones do have a few shortcomings, including short battery life and limited ability to maneuver in windy conditions, soldiers expressed optimism about the future capabilities that widespread use would afford them.

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“For us, for the observers, it makes it easier for us to target rounds, especially with mortars,” Spc. Jeffrey Anicet, a joint fire support specialist with 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery Regiment, said. “When working with aircraft on guided ordnance, we’re able to precision drop along those coordinates exactly where we want them to the tenth of a meter.”