A soldier holds a Black Hornet Unmanned Aerial System in one hand and a controller for the system and a display screen in the other hand. The display screen, which is slightly larger than a smart phone, is attached to his vest and provides situational awareness. (Photo: U.S. Army)

For soldiers in combat, situational awareness – knowing where the enemy is and where friendly forces are – is critical.

To help soldiers maintain situational awareness, the U.S. Army submitted a draft Request for Proposal for Soldier Borne Sensors, which will have two components – an unmanned aerial vehicle and a ground control station. With a camera in the air vehicle, soldiers will be able to see further and around obstacles that they previously wouldn't be able to see in near-real-time.

While the Soldier Center has been working on SBS and small unmanned aircraft systems, the project originally began with the U.S. Army Foreign Comparative Testing Program, which is overseen by Office of the Secretary of Defense's Comparative Technology Office and managed by RDECOM. The project was then transitioned to PM Soldier Borne Systems.

The final RFP, which will be awarded in 1st quarter FY19 through an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, will be for an additional 2,400 systems.

The Soldier Center conducted laboratory testing on the SBS system earlier this year at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; and Natick, Massachusetts. Key areas that the tests focused on was the ability to visually detect the system at different distances and in different environments, how long it takes to deploy the system, and range and battery life. The Soldier Center plans to conduct altitude and extreme cold weather testing to inform future research and development of the systems.

Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division conducted a "fly-off" at Ft. A.P. Hill, Virginia. During the fly-off, three systems were tested. Feedback from the soldiers was very positive, and the Army awarded a $2.6 million order for 60 Black Hornet III UASs to FLIR System, Inc. on May 30, 2018. The FY18 fly-off systems will be fielded to a Brigade Combat Team, and lessons learned from the fly-off will be used for the final RFP. The ultimate goal is to field one SBS to nearly every squad in the Army, which includes more than 7,000 squads.