Military, Unmanned

US Army Orders $40M in Personal Reconnaissance Nano-Drones

By Nick Zazulia | January 30, 2019
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Black Hornet FLIR

A soldier holding a Black Hornet UAS. (FLIR Systems)

The U.S. Army has given FLIR Systems a $39.6 million contract for Black Hornet tactical nano-UAVs.

Purchased under the Army's Soldier Borne Sensor program, FLIR will deliver an undisclosed number of its Black Hornet personal reconnaissance systems to the military. The Army first placed an order for Black Hornets with FLIR last May to the tune of $2.6 million and is re-upping with a bigger order.

“This contract represents a significant milestone with the operational large-scale deployment of nano-UAVs into the world’s most powerful Army,” said Jim Cannon, President and CEO of FLIR Systems. “This contract is a major win for the newly established Unmanned Systems & Integrated Solutions business division at FLIR and demonstrates the strong and urgent demand for nano-UAV technology offered by FLIR. Protecting U.S. warfighters with our unmanned solutions is a key objective for FLIR.”

The company's Black Hornet kit features a compact ground control station with three of the drones, a control device designed for one-handed use that features a display, and the ability to charge the UAS, which FLIR says require "minimal training" to operate.

FLIR Black Hornet

FLIR Systems' Black Hornet control unit with display. (FLIR Systems)

Each Black Hornet is about 6.5 inches long and weighs well under a pound at 33 grams. They feature a replaceable payload with electro-optical/infrared sensors for transmitting video and imagery in all light conditions and are compliant with STANAG 4609, NATO's most recent digital motion imagery standard for promoting interoperability.

The diminutive drones have a 1.25-mile range and can top 13 mph during their 25-minute flight time. They are capable of both satellite and video-based navigation for operation in GPS-denied conditions. Black Hornets are proven in beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight, according to FLIR, and have automatic and manual hover modes as well as an automatic return function.

Drones are a new business for FLIR, which primarily produces cameras and sensors. The Oregon-based company has long produced third-party imaging solutions for UAS, but only recently began making the Black Hornet itself, which has seen 8,000 worldwide deliveries so far. FLIR also just purchased drone-maker Aeryon Labs for $200 million on the heels of the Army announcement, signaling a commitment to drone production.

Black Hornet deliveries under the new Army contract should begin early this year, according to FLIR.

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