16 January 2016

Small Armed Drones Ready For Prime Time

An article at Defense Tech reviews a variety of new light military drone designs in connection with a U.S. military RFP called LMAMS (for Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System).

For example, "the Switchblade weighs less than five pounds and its electric propulsion is near-silent. It is tube-launched, with flick-out wings, and can fly for more than ten minutes, sending back color video and infra-red imagery so the operator can locate and identify a target. Once spotted, it can lock on and dive in at over 90mph with a warhead powerful enough to take out a pickup truck or a group of individuals with pinpoint precision from six miles away. Being able to find and hit targets miles away from behind cover with high accuracy could alter ground combat. A squad with this capability could decimate opponents at long range without ever being seen. Switchblade can also be launched from an aircraft or even a submarine for covert strike."

What does that mean in terms someone can relate to?

This means that a soldier on foot with only a backpack on the University of Denver campus is capable of destroying a single particular vehicle or killing group of people as far away as downtown Denver or the Denver Tech Center.

Half a dozen other models from companies across the world vary the parameters moderately, but are basically comparable in a capabilities.  Poland makes a drone called "Warmate" that is a bit larger and more capable.
The Warmate is larger than the size specified for LMAMS at nine pounds, but it has a 30-minute endurance and a maximum speed of 90 miles per hour. There are two different warheads, an anti-personnel fragmentation charge and a shaped-charge warhead. The first version is claimed to have a lethal radius of ten meters, while the second can penetrate 100mm of steel armor. Unlike other infantry weapons, a drone can easily attack the top, rear or sides of a vehicle.
The Warmate system would be capable of killing everyone waiting in line outside the Denver Pavilions movie theater on the 16th Street mall or cracking open a bank safe in downtown Denver from a launch site on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The downside of this powerful new armed drone technology is that this is very affordable off the shelf technology that pretty much any country or insurgent group's military force can acquire. For example, ISIS has adapted hobby model airplanes for recon and armed drone purposes. Drone countermeasures are still in their infancy, however.

For example, even if an incoming armed drone with of range of many miles can be destroyed before it does harm, locating the people who launched it, or even knowing it was coming before it was almost on top of you, would be almost impossible using current technology.  And, this is before anyone attempts to use stealth technology which can give a jet fighter the radar profile of a large bird.

When the radar target is the size of a large bird to start with and moving only moderate faster than a large bird in a good wind (hawks can dive faster than may of these drones reaching speeds of 120 miles per hour and have a peak cruising speed of about 50 miles per hour) distinguishing noise from signal is a daunting challenge.  But, if you apply stealth technology, you get a radar profile the size of a large bug which really is to all intents and purposes invisible, in addition to having a target that isn't terribly hot compared to a bird in the infrared with an electric motor, isn't much louder than a bird, and isn't easy to see visually, especially if it is camouflaged to match a nighttime or daytime sky as the case may be.

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