Por­ta­ble At­tack Drones or Loi­ter­ing Mu­ni­tions

Thou­sands of so-called loi­ter­ing mu­ni­tions have al­ready been fielded in Afghanistan. This realm of ac­tiv­ity is no longer dom­i­nated by the US. While very few na­tions have the tech­nol­ogy or the re­sources to build so­phis­ti­cated com­bat air­craft, but lit­er­ally

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral V.K. Kapoor (Retd)

Thou­sands of so-called loi­ter­ing mu­ni­tions have al­ready been fielded in Afghanistan.

WE ARE FA­MIL­IAR WITH the term un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVs) or un­manned aerial plat­forms or sim­ply drones. Today the drone is one of the most im­por­tant as­sets of any mil­i­tary force not only for sur­veil­lance but also as an of­fen­sive weapon for at­tack­ing tar­gets which are out of reach of ground forces. With pre­ci­sion tech­nolo­gies what are called loi­ter­ing mu­ni­tions are be­com­ing the favourite weapons of the armies all over the world. Whether you la­bel them as hand-held cruise mis­siles, pocket ar­tillery or minia­ture air force, loi­ter­ing mu­ni­tions will be – and in some in­stances al­ready are—part of the ar­se­nal of the mod­ern warfighter. This is a log­i­cal ad­di­tion to the way un­manned sys­tems are be­com­ing so es­sen­tial in con­tem­po­rary war­fare. There is also wide­spread em­ploy­ment of these drones in the po­lice and anti-terror forces of some coun­tries. This ar­ti­cle gives a bird’seye view of the trends, in this re­spect, in the armed forces of the world.

Thou­sands of so-called loi­ter­ing mu­ni­tions have al­ready been fielded in Afghanistan. This realm of ac­tiv­ity is no longer dom­i­nated by the US. While very few na­tions have the tech­nol­ogy or the re­sources to build so­phis­ti­cated com­bat air­craft, but lit­er­ally any­body can make a small drone. Some are al­ready in pro­duc­tion in var­i­ous parts of the world. In the US, the Lethal Minia­ture Aerial Mu­ni­tion Sys­tem has been ini­ti­ated and is pro­gress­ing slowly.

Some of the minia­ture drones in use are given be­low with their known char­ac­ter­is­tics which make them suit­able as loi­ter­ing mu­ni­tions.


The tube-launched minia­ture tac­ti­cal armed drone Switch­blade went into op­er­a­tion with the US Army in Septem­ber 2012. The AeroViron­ment Switch­blade Kamizaze drone can be car­ried in a sol­dier’s back­pack and fired from a mor­tar-like launch tube. The Switch­blade weighs less than five pounds and its elec­tric propul­sion is near-si­lent. It is tube-launched, with flick­out wings, and can fly for more than ten min­utes, send­ing back colour 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 145 kmph with a war­head pow­er­ful enough to take out a pickup truck or a group of in­di­vid­u­als with pin­point pre­ci­sion from 9 km 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.

Over 4,000 Switch­blades have been de­ployed in Op­er­a­tion En­dur­ing Free­dom in Afghanistan and Switch­blade has been ap­pre­ci­ated for its ac­cu­racy, be­ing able to hit snipers from behind cover, as well as pick­ing out sin­gle in­sur­gents in a crowd of on­look­ers/passersby.


Tex­tron Inc. is put­ting for­ward its Bat­tle­hawk for LMAMS re­quire­ments. Bat­tle­hawk is a direct fire aerial pre­ci­sion guided mu­ni­tion sys­tem for use by small tac­ti­cal units to en­gage non-line-of-sight tar­gets. Among its key ad­van­tages is the sys­tem’s abil­ity to take on an en­emy from an ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion with­out ex­pos­ing the op­er­a­tor to de­tec­tion or small arms fire. Bat­tle­hawk is tube launched from a car­ry­ing case that fits eas­ily into a sol­dier’s ruck­sack. The to­tal sys­tem weighs 10 lbs, in­clud­ing the launcher, mu­ni­tion and fire con­trol unit. Bat­tle­hawk fea­tures in­clude: 30-minute en­durance to en­able loi­ter­ing. EO/IR stream­ing video for tar­get ac­qui­si­tion and track­ing. 40mm frag­ment­ing grenade war­head for tar­get en­gage­ment. Flex­i­ble car­bon fiber wing. Low acous­tic and vis­ual sig­na­ture. 5 km reach and 2 m ac­cu­racy. Sin­gle-user op­er­a­tion with sim­ple, three-step set up. An­droid-based fire con­trol unit. Abort/wave off ca­pa­bil­ity with self­de­struct.


Lock­heed Martin has dis­played an evolved ver­sion of its ‘Ter­mi­na­tor’ loi­ter­ing un­manned air ve­hi­cle, which it is of­fer­ing for the US Army’s long-run­ning ter- mi­na­tor Lethal Minia­ture Aerial Mu­ni­tion Sys­tem (LMAMS) pro­gramme. It was on show in model form at the As­so­ci­a­tion of the United States Army con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton DC, say­ing that it is still under com­pet­i­tive eval­u­a­tion with the army. The

newly dis­played de­sign has been sig­nif­i­cantly en­hanced since the high-ex­plo­sivearmed Ter­mi­na­tor was revealed in 2014 as a twin-en­gined con­cept.

“Ter­mi­na­tor now col­lapses into a compact con­fig­u­ra­tion read­ily ca­pa­ble of tube launch,” says a spokesman. “The mis­sile pre­serves the gen­eral size, shape and aero­dy­nam­ics of its orig­i­nal high per­form­ing and proven air­frame de­sign, but now gives the sol­dier a more man-por­ta­ble and con­ve­nient de­ploy­ment method.”


Is­raeli com­pany uVi­sion makes the Hero range of loi­ter­ing strike drones, and the small­est, the Hero-30, fits the re­quire­ments for LMAMS. UVi­sion Pres­i­dent and CEO Yair Dubester has stated that the com­pany will be com­pet­ing for LMAMS with the help of an es­tab­lished US mis­sile firm. The Hero range have al­ready been sold to an Is­raeli mil­i­tary cus­tomer. The com­pany has also of­fered li­censes to man­u­fac­ture the Hero to other com­pa­nies. Is­rael has long led the US in drones.

Hero-30 is man-pack por­ta­ble and is the small­est sys­tem in the UVi­sion fam­ily of smart loi­ter­ing sys­tems. De­ploy­able within min­utes, Hero-30 is ca­pa­ble of speeds of up to 100 knots and is ideal for anti-per­son­nel mis­sions. Some of its char­ac­ter­is­tics are:

Mi­cro Com­bat Un­manned Air­craft Sys­tem War­mate (Mi­cro C-UAS War­mate) is de­signed in or­der to sup­port the fol­low­ing com­bat op­er­a­tions de­pend­ing on the pay­load in use: Sur­veil­lance, de­tec­tion, recog­ni­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the ob­jects of in­ter­est (EO/IR pay­load GS9). De­tec­tion and strike against the en­emy per­son­nel (EO-frag­men­ta­tion charge war­head). De­tec­tion and strike against the en­emy’s light ar­moured ve­hi­cles (EO-lin­ear cu­mu­la­tive charge war­head). The se­lec­tion of the mis­sion pro­file is be­ing per­formed by choos­ing the proper pay­load/war­head just be­fore the sys­tem op­er­a­tion. The pay­loads are in­ter­change­able by shar­ing com­mon in­ter­faces. Mi­cro C-UAS War­mate can be op­er­ated as an au­ton­o­mous and in­de­pen­dent sys­tem, be­ing trans­ported by the army or spe­cial forces troops. The sys­tem has also the ca­pa­bil­ity of be­ing in­stalled on­board the mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles, such us the ter­rain ve­hi­cle or ar­mored per­son­nel car­rier. The sub­sys­tem as the Ground Con­trol Sta­tion or Ground Data Ter­mi­nal can be seam­lessly in­te­grated with the ve­hi­cle’s on­board in­stal­la­tion mak­ing it a part of the sys­tem.

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 145 km 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 10 me­tres, while the sec­ond can pen­e­trate 100mm of steel ar­mour. Un­like other in­fantry weapons, a drone can eas­ily at­tack the top, rear or sides of a ve­hi­cle.

Ira­nian Drones

Lieu­tenant Com­man­der of the Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards Corps (IRGC) Bri­gadier Gen­eral Hos­sein Salami an­nounced on Septem­ber 15, 2015, that newly de­vel­oped Ira­nian drone tech­nol­ogy has the ca­pa­bil­ity to fly 3,000 kilo­me­tres for re­con­nais­sance and com­bat mis­sions.

“The IRGC has a drone that has a fly­ing range of 3,000 km round-trip and is ca­pa­ble of con­duct­ing re­con­nais­sance and com­bat mis­sions,” Salami said in an in­ter­view with the state-run TV. He also said that they have a unique bal­lis­tic mis­sile that no one else has, ex­cept for per­haps Russia and the US. He said that in­ter­cept­ing this mis­sile is al­most im­pos­si­ble. The re­port quoted Salami as say­ing that “any US air­base whose air­planes can reach the Ira­nian airspace as well as their air­craft car­ri­ers can be tar­geted by Iran’s unique high pre­ci­sion strik­ing bal­lis­tic mis­siles and drones.”

Sui­cide Kamikaze Drones

In April a US Army re­port said Iran is build­ing a fleet of so-called “sui­cide Kamikaze drones,” and pro­vid­ing know-how on as­sem­bling these new weapons to its ter­ror­ist al­lies Ha­mas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbol­lah in Le­banon. The re­port, which was cited by The Wash­ing­ton Times and pub­lished by the US Army’s For­eign Mil­i­tary Stud­ies Of­fice at Fort Leav­en­worth, Kansas, stated that “no as­pect of Iran’s overt mil­i­tary pro­gram has seen as much de­vel­op­ment over the past decade as Ira­nian un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles”.

Both Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah have de­ployed drones that have pen­e­trated Is­raeli airspace. Thus far, they have not caused dam­age.

“In a mid-Fe­bru­ary speech, reg­u­lar army Gen­eral Ab­dol­rahim Mous­savi out­lined the [Ira­nian] army’s grow­ing use of drones, with em­pha­sis on sui­cide or Kamikaze drones,” ac­cord­ing to the US Army re­port.

“While it is easy to dis­miss the idea of a sui­cide drone as more sym­bolic than real in an age of cruise mis­siles and pre­cise Preda­tors, util­is­ing sui­cide drones is an asym­met­ric strat­egy which both al­lows Iran to com­pete on an un­even play­ing field and poses a risk by al­low­ing op­er­a­tors to pick and choose tar­gets of op­por­tu­nity over a drone’s mul­ti­hour flight du­ra­tion,” the re­port noted.

Home­made Drones

One of the most alarm­ing de­vel­op­ments is the home­made drones packed with ex­plo­sives. Two such fly­ing im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (IEDs), were ap­par­ently brought down by Kur­dish YPG fight­ers who claim they were sent by ISIS. The drones ap­pear to be based on the Sky­walker X9 air­frame, a hobby drone with a nine-foot wing­span and which ISIS has used pre­vi­ously for re­con­nais­sance mis­sions.

This high­lights the fact that in 2016, al­most any­one can make an at­tack drone. Pre­vi­ously, you had to be a hob­by­ist to build and fly a radio-con­trolled air­craft, and it took time and skill. Crashes were part of the learn­ing process. Now com­pa­nies like DJI mar­ket cam­era-car­ry­ing quad­copter drones that can be flown right out of the box by be­gin­ners, com­plete with sta­bil­i­sa­tion and au­to­mated GPS way­points. Around a mil­lion quadro­tor drones were sold last year.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: Lock­heed Martin

Lock­heed Martin’s Ter­mi­na­tor UAV

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