US Marines Are Testing Drones That Can Work as Grenades

The flight of the Drone40 grenade can be controlled from a portable ground control station after its launch.
Ameya Paleja
U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Kyle Heutmaker retrieving a Drone-40 during a training exercise at Camp LejeunePFC Sarah Pysher

We have been talking about how drone swarms are being used on frontlines these days and what it takes to defend against them. How about sending drones on a suicide mission? That's what Defendtex, an Australian defense company, plans to do with their Drone40, reports Popular Science. 

Recently, the US Marines carried out a training exercise with the Drone40 for the first time, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. While other countries have deployed Drone40 in the field, the Marines have relied on a similar device called the Switchblade, which has a fixed-wing. The exercise was aimed at comparing the reliability and performance of the Drone40 against the manufacturer's claims and determine if they can be deployed easily in the field. 

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michael Scotto launching a Drone-40 during a training exercise at Camp Lejeun.  Source: PFC Sarah Pysher

How does it work as grenades?

Unlike the commonly seen drones which are wide-bodied, Drone40 has a vertical fuselage. It still uses four blades for its flight but relatively has a smaller footprint. The drone is designed with a verticle fuselage to enable its launch through a grenade launcher. The fuselage can be packed with explosives and the drone can function as a grenade, but with a difference. 

The flight of the Drone40 grenade can be controlled using a radio link from a portable ground control station after its launch. It can hit the target and detonate or simply return back to the base, whether it can be caught using a tether and reused for a future mission. 

More importantly, the next mission need not be a death mission. Its payload can be swapped easily in the field and the drone could fly out on a separate mission with an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) payload capable of streaming full-motion videos, claims the company. 

Weighing just over six ounces (190 grams), Drone40 has a maximum take-off weight of 10 ounces (300 grams). While this does not seem much, it is the versatility of the payload that makes the drone interesting. Apart from the ISR, the drone can carry a kinetic payload, function as a smoke or flash grenade, and even carry a laser designator. 

Its 20.5Wh battery provides a flight time between 30-60 minutes with a range of over 12 miles (20 kilometers) and a dash speed of 60 feet per second (20 m/s) in autopilot mode. 

When required, the drone can simply be launched by hand but repurposed as a multiple round simultaneous impact (MRSI) munition, when launched through a 40 mm grenade launcher. 

The company claims that it uses mass manufactured printed circuit boards to make its low-cost and recoverable nano-unmanned aerial vehicles. While Defendtex is an Australian defense manufacturer, Mexican cartels also seemed to have already harped on this idea.

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