Battle Ready: Soldiers with Snipe drone.

Battle Ready: Soldiers with Snipe drone.

U.S. military recruits might soon be issued something a bit more high tech than the standard uniform, boots, and rifle.

An undisclosed branch of the military took delivery in April of 20 Snipe drones manufactured by AeroVironment Inc. of Monrovia. Unlike previous drones used by the military, which require specially trained pilots, the Snipe is designed to be flown by novice soldiers on scouting missions.

“The vast majority of troops don’t have access to an unmanned aircraft system,” said Steve Gitlin, AeroVironment’s vice president of investor relations. “The idea of the Snipe is that it is small enough and light enough that it could fit in the pocket of an individual.”

Such pocket-size features could create enormous demand for the product if a military branch opted to distribute Snipe drones to each infantry squad – or even as standard-issue equipment.

“That would mean demand for thousands of units assuming they market globally, which they will,” said Mike Blades, a senior industry analyst in San Antonio with Frost & Sullivan. “I seriously doubt a unit would only have one – you always need a spare.”

Gitlin declined to disclose the price of the Snipe, but he said the company plans to focus its attention on selling to the U.S. military and its allies, possibly selling to police and fire departments, and agencies that perform search and rescue.

“The more troops our customers designate to be equipped with a nano drone, the larger the unit sale opportunity,” he said in an email, adding that the price point of a drone such as the Snipe would be lower than that of its Raven, Puma AE and Wasp AE systems. He cited a Defense Department report that said those drones comprise more than 85 percent of the Pentagon’s drone fleet.

“We are planning on introducing an exportable version of it for allied forces,” he said. “We’ve already received inquiries about it from international customers.”

U.S. military branches are already experimenting with small drones, including the Marine Corps, which this year started giving some infantry units the PD-100 Black Hornet, a humming bird-size drone equipped with a color camera that reportedly costs more than $50,000 and is manufactured by Norway’s Prox Dynamics.

The Marines aim to give troops an information advantage over enemy forces, said Lt. Col. Eric Dent, a public affairs officer for the Marines.

“We want small drones available to every infantry squad so that we can give them eyes and ears on what’s just over the ridge, on the roof of an adjacent building, etc.,” he wrote in an email. “To put it bluntly, we aren’t looking for a fair fight.”

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