Under heavy enemy small arms fire, seeking cover behind walls and under rocks, dismounted, infantry units are often at a loss to know enemy positions and movements. Many enemy maneuvers are inside buildings, hidden by mountainous terrain or otherwise obscured from view by overhead drones and aerial surveillance. Closing with an enemy in the close-in-fight, often called Close Quarter Battle (CQB), requires an ability to adjust in seconds to unanticipated enemy actions, developments which in many cases are almost impossible to predict.
Having an organic, individually operated forward mini-drone, however, might enable infantry to look on the other side of a ridge, see into the next room in a building or simply offer that “unblinking eye” in otherwise inaccessible areas.
This tactical reality is exactly why the U.S. Army is now fast-tracking larger numbers of a tiny three-pound drones to, as Army documents explain it, “provide the squad with an organic ‘quick look.’”
It’s called the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS), a tiny mini-drone intended to give soldiers on the move a quick look around a corner, eyes into a building or over-the-ridge glance at enemy positions, providing an unprecedented tactical advantage.
“At a total system weight of less than three pounds, SBS minimizes the transport burdens placed on the squad while providing situational awareness to one kilometer with fifteen minutes of endurance,” the Army’s Small Unmanned Aircraft System Strategy states.
The small platform consists of a hand-held mini-helicopter-like drone and a small soldier-held viewing screen engineered to work in tandem with one another to offer “forward eyes” to individual soldiers on-the-move. The Army is now in the process of acquiring thousands of these SBS systems, following several years of development. One such system bought by the Army is the Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System made by FLIR.
The 2020 SUAS Strategy document, written by the Army’s “Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate,” delineates the strategic and tactical intent for the mini-drone system, explaining that it can give “scout squads” under enemy fire in a platoon a unique ability to “surveil danger areas.”
“SBS enables infantry squads to surveil target areas, develop a scheme of maneuver, and enhance survivability in and out of enemy contact. This system facilitates decision-making, protects the force, and enables movement and maneuver at the tactical edge of the battlefield,” the strategy says.
The Army’s ultimate goal, according to a 2018 service report, is to “field one SBS to nearly every squad in the Army, which includes more than 7,000 sqauds.”
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.