The IDF may one day carry tactical drones as standard kit, much like they carry machine guns and other weapons. Credit: IDF.

Tactical military drones, otherwise known as “loitering munitions,” have come on the scene at a crucial crossroads in military history.

After decades of the global war on terror, the US military is shifting defense strategy to confront near-peer competitors such as Russia and China — that means fewer counter-insurgency measures and more technology.

However, the next generation of drones won’t be large armed drones deployed by air forces. Just the opposite, in fact.

Tactical drones will be much smaller and stronger, able to be carried into battle by infantry and special forces, and easily deployed and operated, and more importantly, expendable.

SpearUAVs Ninox drone tube can be loaded and fired from a grenade launcher. Credit: SpearUAV.

Israeli firm SpearUAV — which makes drones that are deployed from a canister or capsule — believes it has the answer. In fact, it is seeking to “revolutionize” the way unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used on the battlefield, Seth J. Frantzman of National Interest reported.

SpearUAV has made a line of UAVs, called Ninox, which come in several sizes from what it calls its Ninox 40 to Ninox 103. What’s special about it, is that it can be deployed from a 40 mm grenade launcher or from tanks or vehicles.

Once fired out of its capsule the drones automatically unfold and can conduct their missions under the control of the ground forces. 

According to SpearUAV, the Ninox 40, a 250-gram UAV that can fly for forty minutes; the Ninox 66 made for use with tanks and other vehicles with fifty minutes flight time, and the Ninox 103 that is designed for larger payloads with sixty minutes of flight time.

Several problems are involved when it comes to tactical drones, but SpearUAV appears to have solved these challenges by putting their drones in a capsule, National Interest reported.

SpearUAVs Ninox drone can be shot from a grenade launcher, and then controlled by a user on the ground. Credit: SpearUAV.

One issue is cost. Militaries want small drones that platoons can use but these types of drones need to be rugged or expendable because the nature of ground forces hiking through mountains or fighting in cities is that their equipment gets tossed around.

Second, tactical small drones need to be easy to use. The soldier in the field needs to use their rifle and potentially pilot a drone on the side, National Interest reported.

That means using a tablet or some simple technology that soldiers already know how to use from civilian life, such as pointing and clicking on a screen. The company envisions the operator having an easy fold-down screen incorporated into a tactical vest.

Think of basically deploying a drone from a tube, like the kind Pringles chips come in. This has the advantage that the UAV could be fired into the sky like a grenade or flare or it could be put on a tank in place of a smoke canister, National Interest reported.

This also means the drone can be easily packed into the field without concerns it might get dust or mud or water in it.

SpearUAVs Ninox drone has a very slim profile, making it difficult to spot and neutralize by enemy forces. Credit: SpearUAV.

“We are creating a new dimension for the foot soldier,” says Boaz Ben-Haim, head of business development and a former pilot.

For the average infantry soldier or special forces warrior not much has changed in terms of the basic equipment they have had access to over the years, National Interest reported. Giving them drones, especially drones that may have munitions on them, what is called a loitering munition, would increase lethality.

“For managing today’s chaotic battlefield the soldier needs affordable, scalable, accessible equipment,” Ben-Haim says.

What this means is not letting the cost of these drones balloon. Instead, these encapsulated UAVs could even be expendable, which means not needing to have them come back to base and be repaired or their batteries recharged.