The PD-100 Black Hornet from Prox Dynamics

The PD-100 Black Hornet from Prox Dynamics Patrick Tucker

US Special Forces Are Experimenting With Bug Drones

As intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance needs grow, devices are shrinking.

TAMPA — If you hear this tiny flying bug drone buzzing around your head, an Army Special Forces team might not be far behind. The 18-gram PD-100 Black Hornet from Norway’s Prox Dynamics can bear regular and thermal cameras about a kilometer and stay aloft more than 25 minutes.

At the recent National Defense Industrial Association conference, Defense One reporters saw the Hornet in flight and checked out its surprisingly clear video feed. It’s launched from a small box that straps to a utility belt, which is also where the data is stored, as opposed to on the drone itself, in case it’s captured. The video feeds directly to a small, chest-mounted screen. The operator steers it forward, backward, up and down with a video game-like one-handed controller, or sets waypoints to allow the drone to fly itself.

The PD-100 has been in operational use for three years, including wide use by British Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan. “This is what they use when they check out enemy compounds,” said Arne Skjaerpe, CEO and president of Proxdynamics USA.

Skjaerpe said U.S. Army Special Forces has a handful of the devices.

Officials from U.S. Special Operations Command confirmed that certain elite units had looked at the tiny drone. “These informal evaluations have since completed and the systems were returned to the vendor … Various SOF Combat Development Directorates continue to conduct market research into this class of devices,” the officials said.

In March, Army infantrymen tested the device at Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence during the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments.

It’s the smallest flying robot ever used in a combat setting, says Skjaerpe, who isn’t fond of the term “drone.” He prefers the term “sensor,” more and more of which are making their way onto the bodies of dismounted soldiers. At around $40,000 a system, the Hornet is an expensive sensor. But as drones go, it’s a bargain.