Artificial selection

Army buys AI-infused folding quadcopters for battlefield use

Adam Bry, CEO of Skydio added that while “civilian drone technology has leapfrogged traditional defense systems”, the contract with the military will ensure that “our soldiers will now have access to the world’s most advanced capabilities in this class”.

According to the Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO) for Aviation, the short-range reconnaissance program aims to provide “an inexpensive, portable, portable vertical take-off and landing drone that provides the soldier on the ground a rapidly deployable reconnaissance capability to gain situational awareness beyond the next terrain feature. Exit from the army from 2019PEO Aviation seemed to suggest that commercial drone technologies had overtaken military capabilities, forcing the military to look to private industry for its SRR program:

Soldiers on the battlefield today face an enemy capable of purchasing low-cost consumer drones, which offer capabilities previously limited to more expensive, military-only technologies. Small, advanced, commercially developed unmanned aircraft systems can significantly reduce the time and cost of operating a flying vehicle. To deliver these capabilities, the military uses agile design to execute iterative development based on soldier testing and immediate feedback to commercial companies.

A 2017 federal contract opportunity for the Short Range Reconnaissance Program offers a comprehensive list of requirements for the platform, including a minimum flight endurance of 30 minutes, an operational range of 3 km (1.86 miles), a service ceiling of 8 000 feet, the ability to operate in 15 knots winds, manual and autonomous flight modes with waypoints, and “programmable mission and link loss procedures”. The contract opportunity lists a target price of $2,000 for each cell, less than $2,000 for each “thermal sensor component,” and less than $2,000 for each radio system. A full list of requirements can be read below:

In 2021, Skydio’s X2D drone was chosen as one of six models the Army would evaluate for the short-range reconnaissance program. The Army Test and Evaluation Command then reduced the field to two companies. It’s unclear who the other company in this selection was, but we reached out to Skydio to find out if Skydio is the sole system provider for the SRR program, as their press release seems to suggest.

In recent years, the military has considered smaller hand-launched drones like the Black Hornet or RQ-11B Raven to deploy at the squad level. Units in the field can deploy these drones to provide an eye in the sky on the move, providing a quick and inexpensive method to develop a real-time picture of their surroundings. These small unmanned vehicles can provide an unprecedented level of situational awareness and open the door to new tactics for detecting ambushes, improvised explosive devices or hostile forces on the other side of walls or around corners. . They also open the door to conducting special reconnaissance operations at greater ranges, or even assessing the impact of airstrikes or artillery.

The Army’s selection of Skydio, which designs and manufactures its drones in the United States, would appear to be consistent with recent federal government guidelines regarding foreign-made drone technologies and the need to support a US industrial drone base. Skydio states in their Press release that the X2D drone “complies with the NDAA’s rigorous supply chain security requirements and offers superior cybersecurity protection.”

These requirements could have played a role in the Army’s SRR program selection process, as the service has already had to halt the use of foreign-made drones. In 2017, the US military banned the use of all drones made by Chinese drone maker DaJiang Innovations, or DJI, which supplies more than half of all drones sold in the United States. The company eventually created a model of the US government to try to allay those concerns. Yet in January 2021, the White House signed an executive order directing executive branch departments and agencies to review all of their current drone technologies for potential threats and to ban drones and drone subsystems from adversary countries defined as Iran, North Korea, Russia and China.

The Associated Press later reported in June 2021 that the Pentagon had cleared some Chinese-made DJI drones for government use, but that report was quickly deemed inaccurate by the Department of Defense (DOD). “This report was inaccurate and uncoordinated, and its unauthorized release is currently under review by the department,” the DOD said. said in a press release in response to the PA report. “Mitigation of threats posed by small UAS (unmanned aircraft systems), including DJI systems, remains a priority across the Department, and DOD (DoD) continues to ensure that that the existing policy remains up to date and properly implemented,” the statement continued. Reports surfaced this month alleging that DJI attempted to conceal its ties to Chinese state-owned investment companies, and several Senators and members of Congress have since proposed legislation to further ban DJI drones.

As cybersecurity issues related to foreign drones continue to attract the attention of the US government, it is likely that we will see more American-made drones like the Skydio X2D selected for programs requiring rapid-deployment reconnaissance capabilities. The Army has purchased large quantities of small drones for use among regular units, and in the short term these drones may become standard equipment throughout the Army, changing the way many operations are conducted.

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