Technology is making killing even more efficient, especially for the armed forces, whose next-generation drones are designed to be as portable as they are lethal.
If you saw the movie, "Act of Valor," you saw those real-life Navy SEALs using a small, man-portable drone called the "Raven." That was no movie prop; the Raven is an actual drone, and it is manufactured by Aerovironment out of Monrovia, Calif. It has a wingspan of 4.5 feet and weighs just over four pounds, and while small, this platform is utilized mostly for surveillance.
The Army; however, wants an even smaller drone, and it wants the machine to be capable of tracking someone down from six miles away and eliminating them within 30 minutes or fewer.
But how small is small enough? According to a recent pre-solicitation document for businesses potentially interested in building it, the Army is less concerned about overall size than it is about how much the new drone - dubbed the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System, or LMAMS - would weigh.
Single-use killer drone
The entire system, according to Army documents, has to weigh fewer than five pounds, and that includes the drone itself, the warhead and launch device. An operator should be able to carry the LMAMS in a backpack and be capable of setting it up to fly within two minutes. This is obviously a system the Army wants to employ against enemy targets that may only be exposed for very short windows.
"The LMAMS is envisioned to be a loitering precision guided munition, organic at the small unit level, which allows unprecedented engagement of enemy combatants without exposing the Warfighter to direct enemy fires," the solicitation document says.
"All phases of the LMAMS operations must be accomplished by a single operator and configurable for dismounted or mounted patrolling operations," the document continued. "In the terminal engagement phase, LMAMS will have the ability to automatically track a target designated by the operator or allow the operator to manually control the system as needed to focus on a specific area or point of interest. The system must have lethal effects against personnel and personnel in moving light-duty vehicles, while minimizing collateral damage."
The Army has had its eye on something like this for years, Wired reported. The small size of the craft means it won't be able to carry a lot of fuel. And, as first reported by the subscription-only publication, InsideDefense, the Army needs the drone to be capable of remaining airborne for just a half-hour, tops. But during that short operating window, the Army expects the drone to fly up to six miles to destroy a target, whether human-controlled or pre-programed via GPS signal.
"Whether it speeds to a target fairly distant from where an Army unit is set up or loiters over one until it gets a clear shot, it's another step toward making drone strikes inconspicuous," Wired said.
The Army wants the new drone for use by 2016 at the latest, but developing the LMAMS may not take that long since the Army already has some similar crafts.
Combing existing technology to make smaller killing devices
There are essentially three ways to minimize drones while keeping them lethal. One of those ways is to weaponize the platform (like Raven or a similar drone, the Puma). Raytheon is working on what it calls its Small Tactical Munition, which is a two-foot bomb weighing about 10 to 15 pounds. A second way is to take existing functionalities and specifications of existing killer drones and scale them down, as with Arcturus' 17-foot armed spy plane.
A third way is to combine drone and missile technology, allowing a controller to remotely pilot a small missile on a one-way mission to its target, like AeroVironment's much-anticipated Switchblade.
The new LMAMS is more like Switchblade than the other two formulas, as it's designed for a single use.