After a year and a half of Ukraine’s fight for survival, we’ve seen how they have leveraged small, consumer videography drones in their favor.
Their use changed the battlefield intelligence equation so much that Russia soon followed with their own “drone battalions.”
Despite this, consumer drones are still in high demand and not as ubiquitous on the battlefield as Ukrainian commanders would like. But what if every individual infantryman had their own micro-UAV for scouting and reconnaissance?
On July 25, the Biden administration announced an additional round of security assistance that includes ammo for the Patriot air defense system and NASAMS, more HIMARS ammo, 32 more Stryker armored personnel carriers, and much more.
But one line item caught my eye…
The U.S. is also sending an unspecified number of the Black Hornet Nano — a military micro unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) co-developed by Prox Dynamics AS of Norway (later acquired by Teledyne FLIR.)
And frankly, it’s the cutest little drone I’ve ever seen.
Remember folks, it’s not the size of the drone that matters, but how you use it…
In all seriousness, its diminutive size makes it virtually undetectable, and yet it’s packed with high-resolution cameras and autonomous capabilities.
These micro-UAVs support a new direction in battlefield intelligence, sometimes called Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (CP-ISR), because these 6 x 1-inch drones are small enough to fit in a soldier’s cargo pocket.
The newest version, the Black Hornet 3 (which was named a 2019 Popular Science ‘Best of What’s New’ Grand Award winner in the Security category) weighs only 1.16 oz.
So, what can Ukrainian soldiers do with the Black Hornet?
A soldier can be trained to operate a Hornet in just one 20-minute crash course.
This little bugger gives the Ukrainian soldier squad-level, immediate, covert situational awareness.
U.S. Marines who got their hands on the Hornet recalled how they could have used the drone in Afghanistan.
James Mitchell, a Marine veteran who now works for the Hornet’s manufacturer said “The Black Hornet could prove to be a lifesaver in combat. No longer do commanders have to use personnel to inspect a vehicle that may contain explosives. Instead, the first check can be performed by an expendable micro drone.”
In the current Ukraine counteroffensive, progress is being slowed by Russian minefields. After initially realizing that pushing through with tanks just wasn’t going to work, the Ukrainians changed tactics.
Now, under artillery cover, armored vehicles advance and dismount small groups of soldiers into contested areas. Those troops then take on the painstaking task of clearing Russian positions and minefields.
A small, pocket drone like the Hornet could be a huge asset in these types of operations.
When a Ukrainian soldier encounters a Russian trench line now, they must physically enter it to get basic information such as enemy strength, size, and terrain. But a micro drone could quickly and easily scout the location in advance, giving Ukrainian soldiers eyes before committing humans.
I think the phrase “game changer” is starting to get overused — such is the rate of Ukrainian innovation in this war. But given the current slog, micro-drones could be a game changer. And that’s not considering their swarm capabilities — the tactics of which are still being developed by U.S. military planners.
Each Black Hornet unit is comprised of two drones and a launcher, and each two-drone kit costs the U.S. about $195,000.
As of this writing, the Black Hornet does not carry any weapons — at least not yet. Although it’s so small, I can’t imagine strapping anything larger than a firecracker to it.
The biggest advantage of the Black Hornet might be its onboard artificial intelligence systems which enable it to conduct pre-programmed missions, follow specific routes, react to changing environmental conditions, and even automatically return to its dock without constant human input.
Ukraine has become something of a proving ground for new technologies as the defense industry lobbies the U.S. to send their newest gadget to the warzone.
In that sense, if the biggest winner of the Ukraine war is European security, then the second-biggest winner is the defense industry and weapons manufacturers.
Regardless, Ukrainian soldiers will be the first to implement this new tech as they continue to expel their invaders.
I’ll update once I have any new videos of the Black Hornets in action.
Multi-Branch Veteran | Military & Global Security Writer for War is Boring, GENmag, OneZero, Edge | Law Student at WMU | TEDx Speaker | Dad to 3 | Hates nukes
Cheers, and stay frosty my friends,