It looks like a grenade, and can explode like a grenade—but it can also take pictures and fly.
The British Army is testing a drone that can be fired from a standard low-velocity 40mm grenade launcher. It’s not just any drone however: it can conduct surveillance/reconnaissance, pack an explosive payload, pop smoke, or fly in a swarm with other drones.
The little drone, manufactured by DefendTex, an Australian company, is essentially a low-velocity 40mm grenade with deployable rotors. The company describes it as an “autonomous, loitering grande deployed from either a 40mm grenade launcher or hand launch. Drone40 gives a single soldier multiple round simultaneous impact (MRSI) capabilities. Utilising a standard 40mm grenade launcher, multiple munitions can be launched, each munition working as a force multiplier.”
In addition to a camera, the Drone40 can be equipped with smoke, flashbangs, and hard or soft-kill payloads. The manufacturer also explains that it can be outfitted with a laser target designator, or some sort of electronic warfare jammer. Check out this video, showing a Drone40 being hand-launched rather than from a grenade launcher, and apparently controlled by a smartphone.
A video demonstration from the company shows how the Drone40 system works when shot from a grenade launcher. Using what appears to be a small explosive charge, the drone pops a short distance out of the launcher and deploys four pop-out rotors.
It is disposable and reusable too. “Drone40 is equipped with a module payload bay allowing for quick in field changes ranging from full motion video streaming ISR to kinetic effects. When used in a non-kinetic scenario the Drone40 is recoverable and reusable.”
Thanks to reporting done by Overtdefense, it is believed that the little drone will be used by a British Army task group that will be deployed in Mali as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA).
It appears that the system was publicly unveiled in 2019 and seems to have become more capable since then in respect to maximum range and loiter time, indicating battery improvements. Although the small drone is only 180 grams, its maximum takeoff weight is 300 grams. It’s speedy too: DefendTex lists its maximum range as twenty kilometers or nearly 12.5 miles, with maximum flight time in the thirty to sixty-minute range, and is probably contingent on payload.
In addition to flitting around battlefields and either exploding or simply observing, the Drone40 can also work in tandem with other Drone40s as a swarm—at least semi-autonomously. DefendTex states that each Drone40 has an autopilot function, which is assumed would play a role when multiple drones form a swarm.
The British Army is sure to glean valuable information on the drone’s performance in Mali. Could the Drone40 be coming to the United States military as well?
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.
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1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (88 sites)