Third in a series of posts about light role infantry.
Want a mortar at the platoon level, someone needs to carry it, or something.
This is the problem with always adding equipment to an infantry platoon, the logical outcome is that they become mechanised, and lose all their fleet of foot advantages.
No easy answers here.
With small UAS and loitering munitions there is an argument that although they add additional weight, they might allow the platoon to carry less and/or be more efficient.
Theoretically, they should improve decision-making by increasing situational awareness, allowing targets to be acquired at the platoon support weapons range and enabling fire correction for GPMG (or platoon mortars).
Certainly, they have not been issued generally.
More recently, the British Army has been trialling a few different models including the Bug, from BAE and UAV Tek.
The Bug was reportedly much more wind resistant than the Black Hornet 3 and other comparable systems during trials, an important benefit.
The Bug can stay aloft for 40 minutes, able to broadcast 1080p full-motion video to a range of 2km, a range well suited to platoon-level operations.
The UAS itself is small and light, quiet and easy to use. The package consists of a carrying case, spare batteries, a controller and a couple of UAS.
Not sure if these are still available though as the UAV Tek website is no longer online and their last Twitter activity was some time ago, but I think from images and video you can visualise.
The AeroVironment Snipe is a comparable system, shown below in its case.
Another system recently trialled is the one from Defendex in Australia, the Drone 40
Drone 40 is designed as a modular system, able to accept lethal and ISR payloads.
Drone 40 has recently been used in Mali by the British Army, although without the lethal payload. Other payloads include Electronic Warfare, Smoke/Flash and a laser designator.
It certainly looks impressive, although not without competition from the Spear UAV Ninox 40.
Each of these three systems seems well suited to infantry platoon operations and the choice of carrying a warhead or not for two of the three is an added benefit.
Small Loitering Munitions
All of the above systems are based on multi-rotor designs.
Fixed-wing designs tend to have a longer range and larger warhead, and most designs have only limited re-arm and re-use capability.
Switchblade 300 has a 15-minute endurance and 10km range, although this is increased with the unarmed Blackwing variant.
The warhead is reported of similar weight to a 40mm grenade, suitable for soft skin vehicles and dismounted personnel.
The Royal Marines have reportedly used these to great effect in recent trials.
As can be seen from the image of Hero 30 below, they are relatively bulky.
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Switchblade 300 is its ability to be launched from a Multi-Pack Launcher
The MPL can carry up to 6 Switchblade 300 at a time and although liftable by two persons, probably has greater utility when vehicle-mounted or shipborne.
The video below shows the General Dynamics TRX with multiple launch boxes.
Other concepts for swarm launching are also coalescing around systems like the Switchblade 300, in the video below, the Raytheon Coyote
It is easy to appreciate how something like the Switchblade 300 has enormous potential, that the Royal Marines are aware of and hopefully, Ukrainian forces are fully exploiting if news reports are true.
A Few Thoughts
For Light Role Infantry, every litre of rucksack space and kilogram of weight has to earn its keep.
A small UAS would have to compete with extra link, more NLAW. and the plethora of other things that fall into the ‘collective carry’ basket.
Any additional systems also have to be relevant to the role, consistent with procedures, able to be trained on in a crowded training calendar, and affordable to be widely issued.
This is why I think the fixed-wing canister launch loitering munitions are not applicable to conventional light role infantry.
For specialist users, certainly, as part of an integrated small craft and vehicle launched approach, absolutely, and for light role infantry at the Company level, yes.
But at platoon level.
Far more applicable is a small UAS, like those described above.
Two or three can be carried which provides resilience against loss from accidents or enemy action. Their weight and bulk are certainly an addition, but not prohibitively so.
However, besides costs, perhaps the main problem for these systems is cognitive overload and training burdens.
This might make a case for a slightly larger platoon HQ with a system operator role, they can carry the small UAS and receive specialist training in their use.
These systems do seem mature enough for wider adoption, now show me the money!