The US Navy has put out a call for small and "nano-sized", vertical take-off and landing unmanned air systems (UAS) for use by Marine infantry units to collect battlefield intelligence.
Col Eldon Metzger, the navy’s small tactical UAS programme manager, said in an email that the Marine Corps is “conducting a capabilities-based assessment on the future of small UAS technology that will provide day and night imagery of the tactical environment to troops at the battalion, company, or detachment level.”
Marines are looking for a man-portable UAS that can provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in real time during the day and at night, in all weather conditions. The RFI specifically says the aircraft should operate in rocky, uneven, urban, forested and maritime environments where Marines routinely operate. Proposals are due by 1 September.
The service stresses the need for lightweight, easy-to-use systems that require minimal training or logistical tail and will not burden troops in the field. Unlike larger UAS, the navy is looking for a single system – aircraft, control station and information monitoring device – that can be carried in the field by a Marine.
Other attributes of the navy’s desired UAS include an electro-optical and/or infrared sensor payload that can provide real-time full motion video of a tactical landscape. The vertical takeoff and landing requirement includes the ability to launch and land within a “confined area” by either autonomous or manual means.
Jamie Cosgrove, a spokeswoman for Navy Air Systems Command, said small UAS, also designated Group I aircraft, are categorised as weighing less than 9.07kg (20lb). The RFI describes nano UAS as weighing between 2.27kg and 9.07kg, with a range of between 0.27nm (0.5km) and 2.7nm. It also should have a flight duration of between 15min and 45min, the document states.
The Navy currently has no nano UAS in its portfolio, Cosgrove said. Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, California-based AeroVironment in 2011 finalised development of the Hummingbird nano UAS. The tiny UAS, which flies with the same mechanics as an actual hummingbird’s rapidly beating wings, can hover and project full-motion video to an operator with an onboard micro-camera. AeroVironment declined to comment for this story.
DARPA officials envisioned the Hummingbird could allow troops to peek at potential threats inside buildings or behind cover from a safe distance.