The innumerable caves, crags and hiding spots dotting the Afghan mountains render conventional tactics useless. So rather than play reactionary whack-a-mole with insurgents, US Special Forces may soon deploy these radio-controlled, explosive-laden planes to find and eliminate targets in one deadly fell swoop.
Developed by Textron Defense Systems, the BattleHawk Squad Level Loitering Munition is a carbon-fibre bomb that can patrol an airspace before acquiring and eliminating targets. The tube-launched drone is small enough to be transported in a backpack, though its 40mm high-fragmentation charge makes the system quite deadly against personnel and unarmored vehicles.
A pair of HD digital cameras mounted in the BattleHawk's nose allow the pilot to guide the munition when searching for targets at speeds up to 260km/h. With a 30-minute flight time, the BattleHawk can either be controlled directly by the pilot or be pre-programmed to fly a specific path. When it does find a target, an onboard target detection and tracking system handles the terminal guidance manoeuvres, even if the target is moving.
"The BattleHawk provides a lightweight, organic lethal intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability that is essential for small teams in irregular environments," says Textron's Henry Finneral, VP of Advanced Weapons & Sensors. "Even without direct line of sight, special forces operators can identify and interdict threats from a safe standoff distance."
There's no word yet on when the BattleHawk will get to the battlefield, though Textron has recently demonstrated the system for the US Army's Rapid Equipping Force — the same team behind the Front-Line Fab Lab — at the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center in Socorro, New Mexico, and US Special Operations Command have reportedly expressed interest as well.
Images: Textron Defense Systems