LONDON — The U.S.-based company Teledyne Flir has unveiled technology meant to provide the autonomous launch and recovery of multiple drones from inside military vehicles.
The Black Recon vehicle reconnaissance system features a new micro-drone that weighs about 350 grams and is designed to fly at speeds that allow it to operate ahead of a moving vehicle.
The drones fit in a launch box mounted to a wide variety of platforms, including main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. This deployment system allows for continuous operations by cycling through three drones with an automatic relieve-and-replace process as batteries deplete. Each has a flight endurance that exceeds 45 minutes.
“Upon the return of a Black Recon VRS, a cradle arm autonomously recovers it using patented technology to track, capture and dock the system. Another one can then deploy, while the first recharges for the next mission,” Ketil Vanebo, a senior director of international business development at Teledyne Flir, told Defense News.
The company’s team in Norway began developing the Black Recon project in 2020, with support from the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. It was built on know-how from the Black Hornet nano-drone. Black Hornet became a product of the company FLIR Systems when it purchased the system’s developer, Norwegian company Prox Dynamics, in 2016. Teledyne Technologies acquired FLIR Systems in 2021.
“Black Hornet 3-based vehicle recon system was a concept demonstrator first displayed in 2018. It, however, quickly became clear that a UAV optimized for dismounted soldiers would not be the best fit for vehicle operations,” Vanebo said. “The field trials and work completed with this drone were important for refining the final requirements for Black Recon.”
The new technology, unveiled at the DSEI defense show in London, is not yet operational, but officials say the company has shared the concept with potential customers in the U.S., Europe and Asia. They expect the system will be available for customers in the second half of 2024, with delivery of the first units likely in early 2025.
Last month, the company announced it signed a $31 million contract with Norwegian manufacturer Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace to supply Ukrainian forces with its Cerberus XL mobile counter-drone system. The agreement foresees the provision of training, although it’s unclear where that would take place.
The Cerberus combines thermal and visual imaging onto a mobile platform to detect and track enemy drone targets — up to 500 at a time using radar — and then feeds the information to Kongsberg’s remote weapons station to defeat the threat.
This is one of several types of equipment Teledyne Flir has provided for use in Ukraine as it fights off a Russian invasion. Troops there have used its Black Hornets for more than a year now, with Vanebo saying they systems have performed successfully, citing feedback.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.