The U.S. Air Force has been looking for what they’re calling a “Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System” to be fielded with special ops units next year. If the name of the program doesn’t explain it, the above pic should: they essentially want a mortar round with wings, a camera, and a little engine. In other words, a surveillance UAV that can suicidally attack targets on command.
There are several systems with this capability currently in the works, but the operational requirements and principles are all the same. LMAMS needs to weigh three kilos or less, including the vehicle and the launching system. It needs to be able to deploy and fire in under 30 seconds, reach an altitude of 100 meters, and acquire and track a human-sized target in a further 20 seconds. At that point, the drone can either dive at its target, landing within a one meter radius and exploding its small (but still quite lethal) warhead, or it can loiter for up to 30 minutes, sending back live video.
Now, this seems like a fairly dangerous little robot to have around, but before you get all worked up about killer robots and stuff, remember that these special ops units already have tools to deal with situations that the LMAMS is designed for: namely, blindly chucking dumb mortars and grenades at things, calling in air support, or putting themselves in harms way to get a better view of their target. All the LMAMS does is to reduce risk and collateral damage. Or at least, that’s the idea, but whether it’ll work in practice remains to be seen.
The UAV in the picture is Textron Defense Systems’ T-RAM, which stands for Tactical Remote Aerial Munition