Defence-industry scientists have been tasked with creating diminutive weapons for the host of unmanned vehicles proliferating on the battlefield. Here’s a roundup of some of the most promising.
By David Hambling
The US Army’s RQ-5A Hunter, a 7-metre unmanned aerial vehicle, is too small to carry the 45-kilogram antitank Hellfire missiles used by larger aircraft. Instead, it is armed with the Viper Strike air-to-ground missile (see picture). This laser-guided weapon glides for 10 kilometres, weighs a third as much as the Hellfire and causes less collateral damage. How small can air-to-ground weapons get? Air Force officials are publicly suggesting the development of munitions weighing less than half a kilogram that could kill an individual in a crowded area without harming innocents standing nearby.
Common smart submunition
Developed by Textron Defence Systems, the 4-kilogram CSS is a little smaller than a coffee tin, but can destroy tanks. CSS spins like a maple seed as it descends, scanning the area for its targets using laser and infrared sensors. Spiralling at 100 metres, the system can observe nearly a hectare of ground. Once it identifi es a target, the CSS fi res armourpiercing metal slugs. If no target appears, the CSS deactivates in the air or self-destructs on the ground.
Produced by Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Pincher is a ground robot armed with the world’s smallest rockets. The warheads are loaded with a mixture that destroys IEDs by quickly burning explosives without detonating them. Each miniature rocket is 20 centi-metres long and effective at more than 6 metres; a pod of four rockets weighs just 250 grams and creates little recoil. Currently a prototype, Pincher could be operational next year.
Common very lightweight torpedo
At about 100 kg, the CVLWT is less than half the weight of the smallest existing torpedo in the US Navy’s inventory. An advanced shaped-charge warhead gives it the striking power of a much larger weapon. The 275 cm torpedo, petite enough to be carried by unmanned submarines and drone helicopters, is currently under development at Penn State University, in association with the Naval Undersea Warfare Centre.