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Here’s how new mini drones are revolutionizing US Army operations in Afghanistan

Sgt. Justin L. Bertoniere, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, looks at his display as he prepares to launch the Black Hornet III during field testing at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Kyle J. O. Olson, PEO Soldier)
August 13, 2019

U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan were issued a new, potentially life-saving device last month that will give them a new vantage point on the ground from the air.

Paratroopers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, are now using the tiny, helicopter-like Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System (PRS), giving them near-real-time footage, Stars and Stripes reported Monday.

Soldiers in the brigade were issued the drones in the spring and deployed them last month.

“The Black Hornet provided overhead surveillance for the patrol as it gauged security in the region and spoke to local Afghans about their concerns,” a statement from the 82nd Airborne Division said, according to Stars and Stripes.

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A promotional video for the FLIR Black Hornet PRS drone shows just how the technology has changed operations.

The statement added that paratroopers “routinely employ the system” to reduce combat risks. Soldiers are taking these handheld devices into combat zones and have been described as a potential “life-saver” by members of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

“This kind of technology will be a life-saver for us because it takes us out of harm’s way while enhancing our ability to execute whatever combat mission we’re on,” Sgt. Ryan Subers said in an Army statement on May 16.

Black Hornets “will give our soldiers operating at the squad level immediate situational awareness of the battlefield through its ability to gather intelligence, provide surveillance, and conduct reconnaissance,” Lt. Col. Isaac Taylor, an Army public affairs officer, told Business Insider.

The Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System is only about 6 inches in length, weighs only 1.16 ounces and are “small enough for a dismounted soldier to carry on a utility belt,” according to FLIR Systems, the defense contractor that developed the drone.

The Black Hornets are capable of beyond-visual-line-of-sight during the day or night of up to 1.24 miles and can fly up to about 20 feet per second.

With its high-definition camera, the Black Hornet could also potentially be used for facial recognition goggles, Defense One previously reported, and military officials said on July 23 they want to deploy that technology “very soon.”

Speaking at a U.S. Army Futures Command demonstration in Virginia,  Col. Chris Schneider, project manager for Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, said, “We’re going to demonstrate very, very soon, the ability, on body — if there are persons of interest that you want to look for and you’re walking around, it will identify those very quickly.”

Elite Special Forces units began to experiment with drones in 2015.

While the U.S. military does not yet carry explosives on its drones, Russia, who follows closely behind the U.S., is set to add explosives to their mini-drones, Defense One reported.

“It is planned that the new flight vehicles will perform not only reconnaissance missions, but also strike targets with miniature bombs,” the Russian Defense Ministry told Russian news site Izvestia.