Killer drones are getting lighter, smaller and cheaper in order to keep their place on the battlefield as defense budgets are cut and as the U.S. military pulls out of Afghanistan. The latest twist: "kamikaze" drones that blow up along with their intended target.
Two devices were on display at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) trade show in Washington, DC, this week: Textron System's Battlehawk and Aerovironment's Switchblade. Both are hand-launched devices that can be carried in a small backpack.
The Battlehawk is made of carbon-fiber wings that curl up into a 22-inch tube launcher. The 5.5-pound device is then flown via an Android-based software app on a smartphone or tablet device to its intended target. The soldier can turn on a video camera, arm the grenade in the nose of the drone and watch as the truck, tank or unfortunate bad guy is terminated.
"It's a squad-level loitering munition," said Cathy Loughman, Textron senior program manager. "The soldier is given a target, punches it into the tablet, within a minute and a half, they peel the top off and press a couple buttons on the tablet and off it goes."