Imaging company FLIR has been awarded a US Army contract for personal reconnaissance systems, worth $2.6 million.
As part of the Soldier Borne Sensor Program, the US Army has been experimenting with drones to provide military personnel with more situational awareness in the battlefield.
The deal has been struck with FLIR to provide Black Hornet personal reconnaissance systems. FLIR claims the Black Hornet – currently at version 3 – is the world’s smallest such drone. The miniature helicopter has both thermal and optical imaging capabilities, and a flight time of 25 minutes.
Following two years of testing – which will continue before officials complete their evaluation and consider a mass rollout – the Black Hornet is set to become a standard tool for infantry units.
James Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, has no doubt that nano UAVs, such as the Black Hornet, can give soldiers the upper hand during combat.
“The United States Army’s selection of FLIR to provide the Black Hornet PRS in this initial delivery of the Soldier Borne Sensor program represents a key opportunity to provide soldiers in every US Army squad a critical advantage on the modern battlefield,” he said.
“This contract demonstrates the strong demand for nano-drone technology offered by FLIR, and opens the way for broad deployment across all branches of the military. We’re proud to provide the highly-differentiated Black Hornet PRS to help support the US government to achieve the objective of protecting its warfighters.”
Previously, the US Army had explored the potential of drones from Chinese manufacturer DJI and French company, Parrot.
The proliferation of personal recon drones
The latest US Army contract adds another country to the list already using FLIR’s Black Hornet PRS for military surveillance and reconnaissance. According to FLIR, the Black Hornet systems have been delivered to no less than 30 nations around the world, including the Australian and French armed forces.
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Although these drones are not (yet) weaponised, the proliferation of personal reconnaissance systems seems an inevitable development on the battlefield, given the recent advances in robotics, computer vision, and unmanned systems, along with the military’s desire to deploy AI.
The question remains to what extent these unmanned systems may be granted decision-making authority in life and death situations. There is a degree of public sentiment against the use of AI for military purposes. For example, Google has backtracked on its involvement with the Pentagon’s Project Maven, following internal and external pressure.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, academics from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale warned that action needed to be taken sooner rather than later to prevent the malicious use of AI.