The U.S. military is preparing to deploy a small number of unmanned “micro air vehicles” in Iraq in an effort to stem the damage caused by roadside bombs.
Built by Honeywell using ducted-fan technology, each MAV is small enough to fit in a backpack and can be used by soldiers with minimal training. It normally flies between 10 and 500 feet and relays video back to a handheld terminal.
Measuring 13 inches in diameter and weighing 16 pounds, the tiny unmanned aerial vehicles operate much like small radio-controlled helicopters, according to the designers. The Navy has placed a $7.5 million order for about a dozen MAVs so far, plus training and deployment support in Iraq.
The introduction of micro UAVs in support of combat missions comes amid continuing casualties caused by so-called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in Iraq.
It is unclear at this point whether the Honeywell MAVs will be successful in flushing out IEDs before they explode. The U.S. military has been exploring sophisticated UAV-mounted IED detection systems, but the MAV would be used merely to gain access to areas where suspected IEDs may have been placed without putting soldiers in harm’s way.
“IED attacks are among the most dangerous challenges faced by our troops in Iraq,” said Mike Cuff, vice president of surface systems for Honeywell Defense and Space, adding that a roving vanguard of MAVs will allow soldiers on the ground to be more effective in carrying out their primary missions.
In 2003, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded Honeywell a $40 million technology demonstration contract to develop the MAV concept. A follow-on $61 million contract was awarded last summer as part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program. Since mid-2004 a 140-person Pentagon task force has been working on ways to stop roadside bombings.
The Honeywell MAV has flown more than 3,500 test flights over the past three years with the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. The vehicle conducted its first successful international test flight in Bourges, France, on March 28. It also participated in a successful hostage rescue scenario last month. Besides the military, Honeywell hopes to sell the vehicle to civilian law enforcement and security organizations.