Army Wants Tiny Suicidal Drone to Kill From 6 Miles Away

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Wed Sep 12 08:04:44 PDT 2012

Army Wants Tiny Suicidal Drone to Kill From 6 Miles Away

By Spencer Ackerman

September 10, 2012 | 5:31 pm | 

Categories: Army and Marines, Drones

Follow @attackerman

Thought the Armybs Raven drone was tiny? The Army now wants a new drone,
called the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System, thatbs weighs just just 5
pounds. And unlike the Raven, the so-called LMAMS will be armed and
dangerous. Photo: U.S. Army

Killer drones just keep getting smaller. The Army wants to know how prepared
its defense-industry partners are to build what it calls a bLethal Miniature
Aerial Munition System.b Itbs for when the Army needs someone dead from up to
six miles away in 30 minutes or less.

How small will the new mini-drone be? The Armybs less concerned about size
than it is about the dronebs weight, according to a recent pre-solicitation
for businesses potentially interested in building the thing. The whole system
b drone, warhead and launch device b has to weigh under five pounds. An
operator should be able to carry the future Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition
System, already given the acronym LMAMS in a backpack and be able to set it
up to fly within two minutes.

The envisioned LMAMS, a bloitering precision guided munitionb is designed for
quick missions to take out specific targets, and the Armybs had its eye on
something like it for years. Its small size means it canbt carry a lot of
fuel. As first reported by (subscription only) InsideDefense, the Army needs
it to stay aloft for a half hour at most. But during that half hour, the Army
expects it to fly up to six miles to smash into a target, either directed by
a human controller or pre-programmed through GPS. Whether it speeds to a
target fairly distant from where an Army unit is set up or loiters over one
until it gets a clear shot, itbs another step toward making drone strikes

The Army wants it ready for use by 2016 at the latest. But it may not take
that long b since the Armybs already got something similar to LMAMS.

There are basically three models for shrinking the drone war. One is to build
a tiny munition, so as to weaponize existing small spy drones, like the Raven
or the Puma. Raytheonbs doing that with its Small Tactical Munition, a
two-foot bomb that weighs about 10 to 15 pounds. A second is to take the
existing functionality and physical specs of existing killer drones and scale
it down, as with California company Arcturusb eponymous 17-foot armed spy
plane. The third is to mash up drones and missiles, so a controller remotely
pilots a tiny missile and guides it on a one-way mission to a target. Thatbs
what AeroVironmentbs much-hyped Switchblade does.

LMAMS is more like the Switchblade than the other two. Itbs not designed for
more than one use. bOnce a target is selected by the operator in the terminal
phase of an engagement,b the pre-solicitation reads, bno further operator
input shall be required.b Accordingly, its spy tools are minimal: The Army
just needs the soldier operating it from a distance to receive real-time
video of the LMAMSb flight path. And like the Switchblade, since the
drone/missile hybrid is small, it ought to cause minimal collateral damage:
The Army needs LMAMS to have an bextremely low probabilityb of killing
someone 10 meters from its bombbs impact.

In fact, the LMAMS sounds so similar to the Switchblade that the Armybs
flirting with redundancy. The only major discrepancy between what the Army
wants for LMAMS and what the Switchblade does is that the Switchbladebs
loiter time tops out at 10 minutes, which is too short for the bunprecedented
engagement of enemy combatantsb that LMAMS envisions. (The Switchblade can
also fly a span of six miles.) Still, the Army has sunk nearly $10 million
into Switchblade since last September, and an AeroVironment vice president
told InsideDefense, bSwitchblade would be the Aerovironment solution that
applies to this.b

Still, the missions that the Army wants the LMAMS to complete are fairly
specific. It should be used for discrete targets: bpersonnel and personnel in
moving light-duty vehicles, while minimizing collateral damage,b the
pre-solicitation reads. So when Army units b small ones, since the Army wants
LMAMS borganic to the small unit levelb b spot a specific combatant or
suspicious vehicle, a soldier is supposed to launch the LMAMS and direct it
at the target, and only the target. Its limited flight range, loiter time and
camera power restricts its use as an overhead spy tool for scouting those
targets. Given the drawdown in Afghanistan, chances are the bsmall unitsb
whobd operate the LMAMS will be special-operations teams, unless another
ground war breaks out unexpectedly.

The LMAMS is just the latest development in miniaturizing drones. The Air
Forcebs bmicro-aviaryb is at work building small aircraft modeled on insects
and tiny birds, the better for spying without attracting notice. LMAMS
doesnbt care so much about watching an adversary for any prolonged period b
when it finds one, though, the Army wants it killed, and quickly.  

Spencer Ackerman

Danger Room senior reporter Spencer Ackerman recently won the 2012 National
Magazine Award for Reporting in Digital Media.

Read more by Spencer Ackerman

More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list