Army Designs New Camera Drones to Be Fired from Grenade Launchers

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U.S. Military Academy at West Point cadet shoots a M203 grenade launcher
A Class of 2022 U.S. Military Academy at West Point cadet shoots a M203 grenade launcher for the first time during Cadet Basic Training, July 31, 2018. (U.S. Army photo/Michelle Eberhart)

U.S. Army scientists have created a tiny reconnaissance drone that soldiers will be able to fire from their 40mm grenade launchers to spy on enemy activity downrange.

Once fired from an M320A1 40mm grenade launcher, soldiers can control the Grenade Launched Unmanned Aerial System (GLUAS) with a handheld device and receive video feed from the drone's onboard camera, John Gerdes, a mechanical engineer with Army Research Lab (ARL), said in a recent Army news release.

"In battle, there are multiple scenarios of when soldiers would use this technology," Gerdes said. "Basically, if there is something you want to look at, but you have no idea where it is yet, that's where the drone comes in."

Last year, the Army began fielding pocket-sized helicopter drones to units under the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) Program. They are capable of flying up to 25 minutes, while transmitting live video and still images from up to two kilometers away.

Related: Army Fields Tiny Pocket Drones to Paratroopers at Fort Bragg

The GLUAS has two variants. One is a small, paragliding system with folding blade propellers and Mylar paragliding wings to help it stay in the air, according to the release. The other variant is a helicopter-style that hovers on a gimbaling set of coaxial rotors.

The grenade-launched drone has a two-kilometer range with a projected battery life that could top 90 minutes and is capable of operating up to 2,000 feet in the air, the release states.

"This device provides an autonomy and intelligence platform to help soldiers perform useful missions while having a lookout from hundreds of feet in the air," Gerdes said. "Things like GPS receivers and flight controllers are very feasible to install [onto the GLUAS], which makes it easy to maintain a position or follow a ground unit."

The Army first began fielding the M320 grenade launcher in 2009 and later upgraded to the M320A1. The system has a 350-meter maximum effective range for an area target.

The Marine Corps recently fielded its new M320A1 grenade launcher to Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and intends to field it to all of its infantry units by fiscal 2021.

The ARL serves as the Army's corporate research laboratory under the service's Combat Capabilities Development Command.

"We're here to develop innovative concepts for the warfighter's needs, which generally means we bring the size and weight down of a device, and push up the range and lethality," Gerdes said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Read More: Here's How the Marine Corps Is Fielding its New 40mm Grenade Launchers

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