They are the first to use the state-of-the-art handheld tiny surveillance helicopters, which relay reliable full motion video and still images back to the devices’ handlers in the battlefield.
The Black Hornet Nano Unmanned Aircraft System is the size of a child’s toy, measuring just 10cm (4 ins) by 2.5cm (1 inch), and is equipped with a tiny camera.
Soldiers use it to peer around corners or over walls to identify any hidden threats and the images are relayed to a small screen on a handheld terminal.
Sergeant Christopher Petherbridge, of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan, said: “Black Hornet is definitely adding value, especially considering the light weight nature of it.
“We used it to look for insurgent firing points and check out exposed areas of the ground before crossing, which is a real asset. It is very easy to operate and offers amazing capability to the guys on the ground.”
The ‘recce’ soldiers, who operate it from a safe distance, and their commander, Major Adam Foden, explained how they had used Black Hornet with great success on recent missions into Taliban territory. Major Foden, 34, said: ‘Black Hornet is a game-changing piece of kit. Previously we would have sent soldiers forward to see if there were any enemy fighters hiding inside a set of buildings.
‘Now we are deploying Black Hornet to look inside compounds and to clear a route through enemy-held spaces.It has worked very well and the pictures it delivers back to the monitor are really clear. And Black Hornet is so small and quiet that the locals can’t see or hear it.’
When Black Hornet is flown inside Taliban compounds it can barely be heard and is difficult to see against the grey mud walls of village compounds. Enemy fighters, hiding among civilian populations in villages, would be unaware that the drone was watching them.
One BRF soldier said: ‘It’s a cool piece of kit. The pictures are amazingly clear and we can see who is a local civilian and who is a Taliban fighter and whether any weapons are being stored there. We can then make our plans accordingly. It saves a lot of time and a lot of mistakes. It can zoom right up to somebody’s face and hold that frame for as long as is required without them even knowing it’s there. It makes it possible to identify a high-value target.’
Philip Dunne, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, said: “Black Hornet gives our troops the benefits of surveillance in the palm of their hands. It is extremely light and portable whilst out on patrol.
“Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems are a key component in our 10-year equipment plan and now that we have balanced the defence budget we are able to confidently invest in these kinds of cutting-edge technologies.”