Miniaturization is a subtle process. The decades of work that turned large electronics into smaller, more capable machines is mostly background noise in daily life, but sometimes it strikes all at once when staring at a new exploding drone that weighs just under 7 pounds Announced earlier this week, the HERO-30 Short-Range Loitering System, made by Israel’s UVision in partnership with Raytheon, is a loitering munition, a miniature explosion in a small flying body designed for use by infantry against human targets.
UVision demonstrated two Hero-30 flights to an audience of military observers earlier this month. Afterwards, UVision CEO Noam Levitt noted in a release that the demonstrations had less than a one meter Circular Error Probable, suggesting a high degree of accuracy. (Given that CEP is a statistical measure, a little odd to use it to describe the accuracy of a set of two.) More important that statistical disagreement, the whole package of a lightweight munition (roughly 7 pounds) with a 1-pound warhead hitting a target within a meter of where it was aimed is designed to convey a tight accuracy.
The HERO-30 can fly at up to 115 mph, hit targets at a range of between 3 and 25 miles, and fly for a total of 30 minutes. It is launched from a canister, and built for “anti-personnel missions or against light vehicles,” perhaps insurgents in gun-carrying trucks or other lightly equipped forces. UVision notes, in a blanket description of the HERO family of loitering munitions, that the drone can abort a mission mid-flight and then be redirected to another target. (The language is less clear on the drone being aborted and then landed for future use).
What stands out the most here, though, is not any particular feature, but that the whole package seems designed as a high-end alternative to simple mortars. The drone is in the same ballpark weight as a smaller mortar round, with a greater range and the ability to call off the shot after it’s been fired. We’ve seen drones used to carry anti-tank weapons, and we’ve seen somewhat larger but still infantry portable single-use loitering munitions, but this is the first I’ve ever come across that seems, in function if not form, more a substitute for a piece of ammunition more than a replacement for a missile.
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.