Home Americas US Army wants bomb-wielding drones for small units on the ground

US Army wants bomb-wielding drones for small units on the ground

Drone with bombs for US Army
Illustration: A US Marine flying an unmanned aircraft system during a mortar range on Camp Lejeune. Photo: US Marine Corps

The US Army is seeking proposals for the integration of “lethal payloads” on small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) that would be employed by small units on the ground.

Likely looking at the effective use of handheld drones rigged with hand grenades and similar payloads by soldiers in Ukraine, the US Army wants to see if drones currently in use could be fitted with this capability.

The service says the capability should employ munitions (ammunition or explosives) that are currently in the US inventory and attach to one or more sUAS platforms on the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) Blue UAS Cleared List, excluding the WingtraOne platform. The service did not specify why the fixed-wing mapping drone was excluded.

The Blue UAS list currently includes 16 drone models, all of which were vetted through the Pentagon’s on ramp process and underwent a cyber vulnerability assessment.

According to the army, lethal payloads for sUAS would provide capabilities at the small unit level beyond the current use of sUAS, which focuses only on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

Successful development of lethal payloads for sUAS would advance the US Army’s modernization priorities and increase the lethality of its Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs).

Currently only one sUAS platform is fielded at the small unit level: the Short Range Reconnaissance (SRR) platform, fielded by Program Executive Office (PEO) Aviation and referred to commercially as the Skydio X2D.

The SRR was developed to give infantry platoons a UAS platform for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Under the SRR program there is currently no capability to employ the system as a lethal asset.

The solicitation further mentioned that government labs are currently undertaking efforts to develop lethal UAS. These efforts include DEVCOM Armament Center’s latest payload for the SRR platform, which delivers an M67 fragmentation grenade as the munition. The design goals of this effort are the development of modular lethal payloads that can be employed by the current Program of Record SRR and/or any of the platforms on the DIU Blue UAS Cleared List excluding the WingtraOne platform.

As specified, these payloads should be attachable by soldiers in the field, employ ammunition or explosives currently in the government inventory, and increase the lethal capability beyond that of the M67 fragmentation grenade-based solution currently in development.

The army identified integration of the payload to the selected platform while maintaining safe flight as one of the primary obstacles to overcome for successful operation of lethal payloads for sUAS.