Tiny Spy Drones Deployed by British Troops in Afghanistan

Monday, 04 Feb 2013 04:11 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Miniscule drones — tiny surveillance helicopters equipped with cameras — are being employed by British forces in Afghanistan.

The state-of-the-art spy tools are about 1 inch by 4 inches and weigh slightly more than half an ounce. The drones can send images to a handheld device the size of an iPad to ground forces.

The new battlefield technology, called "Black Hornets," allows military personnel to peer around corners and over walls in urban terrain, allowing them to investigate specific areas of open terrain without having to rely on drone operators that would otherwise be located miles away from the operation.

Sgt. Christopher Petherbridge, of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan, told Sky News the mini drones are an advancement.

"Black Hornet is definitely adding value, especially considering the light weight nature of it," Petherbridge said. "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."

Norway-based Prox Dynamics developed the helicopters, and Britain's Defense Ministry purchased them from Marlborough Communications Ltd. as part of a $31 million contract for 160 units, according to Sky News.

"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," Philip Dunne, minister for Defense Equipment, Support and Technology, said. "Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems are a key component in our 10-year equipment plan and now that we have balanced the defense budget we are able to confidently invest in these kinds of cutting-edge technologies."

Last summer, U.S. military forces introduced a relatively small drone in Afghanistan called the Switchblade, which was not widely distributed to ground forces. Like the Black Hornet, the Switchblade is equipped with a camera, and troops can use it while in combat. The Switchblade, however, lacks the maneuverability's of Britain's miniature helicopter and weighs significantly more – about six pounds.

The Pentagon signed a $14 million contract with the California-based manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems AeroVironment last year for an unspecified amount of Switchblade drones, according to The Guardian.

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