“We Think We Have the Smallest Operational UAV in the World Today,” said FLIR Systems’ Arne Skjaerpe about BLACK HORNET 2.
BLACK HORNET 2, launched about 10 years ago by the former Prox Dynamics AS of Norway, was originally designed to the smallest operational UAV in the world, to support the dismounted squad and individual operator. Arne Skjaerpe, Vice President for UAS Sales and Operations at FLIR Systems, (which has BLACK HORNET in its portfolio), pointed out the British Army bought several hundred “1” systems in the 2012-13 time frame, and deployed the systems to Afghanistan and elsewhere. The industry expert continued: “In 2014-15 we launched the next generation BLACK HORNET 2, the system we are selling today. We have sold the BLACK HORNET family of systems to more than 25 countries – mainly to their military forces and law enforcement. We have produced more than 4,000 sensors (a sensor here is a helicopter).”
While the step up from the “1” to “2” models resulted in minimal visual difference between the siblings, there were significant differences in capability – evident in the software around which the BLACK HORNETs were built. “Within the lifespan of one generation there are many improvements, with today’s '2' versions have increased capabilities over the first ones delivered in 2014 due to software improvements,” he emphasised.
Some of the outcomes of improved software result in enhanced flying and navigation features, as well as strengthened imagery and video processing performance. So, what’s beyond the “2” model? Mr. Skjaerpe modestly said: “We don’t want to be too specific on what we have to offer, but we’re looking forward to a next generation, an improved generation of this. We are in discussions with potential customers on how we need to move forward.”
And what are some of the enhancements the end user wants to address in a next generation BLACK HORNET? The FLIR Systems executive responded: “Trend wise we could be looking at increased autonomous capabilities. And there is better sensor quality which will always be an issue. Today we have a capability for situational awareness day [EO] and night [IR] through the cameras. In the future there could be other payloads – which we will talk to our customers about.”
Can the form factor of a next generation BLACK HORNET decrease any further from the “2” model? Mr. Skjaerpe remarked: “We think we have the smallest operational UAV in the world today. We don’t know about any other smaller UAV out there for military purposes. Has it reached its lower limit? We’re not sure about that. And this is a compromise: if you increase weight by so much, what does it give you in improved capability? What can you put on board with a larger system. And on the negative side, what does a slightly larger system bring: the need for more energy, what is the survivability prediction for a larger ‘bird. These are interlocking, relative complex assessments to be done there – something we’re looking at and working on.”