Staff Sgt. Matthew E. Winstead, 4/25th ABCT PAO
A 60 mm high-explosive round launches from the tube of an M-224 Company Mortar System Feb. 11, as the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, gun team readies the next shot at Pulon Range, Thailand, during Cobra Gold 2011.
updated 11/15/2011 2:46:09 PM ET 2011-11-15T19:46:09

Not long after placing its first order for suicide drones, the U.S. Army has set its sights upon a tiny hovering robot capable of scouting dense city environments before exploding with lethal consequences. Such a weapon must have the ability to hover for 10 minutes as it darts inside buildings, searches for enemies with a camera and sends back GPS coordinates of possible targets.

The "hovering tube-launched micromunition" must deploy from a standard U.S. military weapon such as a mortar or grenade launcher, according to a call for Small Business Innovation Research proposals. It might even end up launching from an aircraft or missile under different circumstances. Such battlefield technology could also help with search-and-rescue missions, or cover special events that might require crowd control.

A previous suicide drone ordered by the U.S. military, AeroVironment's Switchblade, appears about the size of a backpack and is remotely controlled by a single soldier. By contrast, the "micromunition" drone would need to be much smaller if the Army intends it to launch from standard-issue military weapons.

Whatever its final shape, the newly requested drone must have the flying capability to travel at least 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) during its brief battlefield scouting mission.

Another item on the Army's wish list seems more like a transforming smart bullet rather than a full-fledged drone. The "shape-changing maneuverable munition" would alter the shape of its fins or nose cones in midflight for course corrections. That could maintain or improve the accurate range of explosive projectiles fired by a cannon, grenade launcher or mortar by about 30 percent.

Such requests point to a new battlefield where individual soldiers have even more precise control over their weapons ― a far cry from the inaccurate guns of early warfare.

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