February 4, 2013
Tiny Helicopter Drones Help Protect British Army In Afghanistan
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
In terms of safely gathering surveillance data on the battlefield without risking human life, it´s hard to get any better than an unmanned drone. Yet, the British Army has found a way to improve on this platform by simply making these drones smaller. According to Sky News, the British Army has begun to use tiny 4-inch by 1-inch, remote controlled helicopter drones to scope out the battlefield in Afghanistan and send back live video and images to soldiers waiting safely in the wings.
The helicopter in question, called the “Black Hornet Nano Unmanned Air Vehicle” is said to be no larger than a child´s plaything, weighing only 16 grams, or 0.5 ounces. Carrying only a small camera, these nano helicopters give soldiers the ability to safely peer around corners or over walls to locate any hidden dangers. The image is broadcast to a handheld screen carried by a nearby soldier.
Speaking to Sky News, Sergeant Christopher Petherbridge of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan said his troops are already benefitting from these tiny eyes-in-the-sky.
"Black Hornet is definitely adding value, especially considering the light weight nature of it,” said Petherbridge.
"We used it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset. It is very easy to operate and offers amazing capability to the guys on the ground."
According to Petherbridge, these drones, though small, are even sturdy enough to maneuver through high winds.
According to the BBC, these Black Hornet drones have been built as a part of a $31 million contract between Marlborough Communications and the drones´ maker, Prox Dynamics AS in Norway. They were originally created to conduct rescue operations and are able to be piloted via remote control or programmed to follow a set of GPS coordinates.
Battery powered, the drones are built for quick, short surveillance missions. They can travel a distance of about half a mile and fly for about 30 minutes with a top speed of 22 miles per hour. Even though they´re used for shorter missions, the Minister of Defense Equipment, Support and Technology is thrilled with them, saying these little devices are all a part of a long term plan.
"Black Hornet gives our troops the benefits of surveillance in the palm of their hands. It is extremely light and portable whilst out on patrol,” said Phillip Dunne, the Minister of Defense Equipment in a statement.
"Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems are a key component in our 10-year equipment plan and now that we have balanced the defense (sic) budget we are able to confidently invest in these kinds of cutting-edge technologies."
With this defense budget balanced, Britain appears to have gone on a spending spree, buying new tools for their Navy. All told, the nation plans to spend $56.6 billion on new, nuclear-powered submarines as well as almost $30 billion on new combat aircraft and more than $26 billion on new warships for the Royal Navy.