Nano 'Bug': British Army begins trial of pioneering pint-sized drone

Tiny BAE Systems-made craft can fly in winds of more than 80kph

The drone was the only nano-UAV able to cope with the uncompromising weather during a recent Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE) event. Courtesy BAE Systems
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A tiny prototype drone has been developed by BAE Systems and the first 30 units have been sent to the British Army as part of a trial.

The engineering giant collaborated with UK drone maker Uavtek to develop the nano “Bug” drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle that weighs about the same as a standard smartphone and boasts a 40-minute battery life and two-kilometre range.

The drone can fly in winds of more than 80kph. It was the only nano-drone able to cope with the uncompromising weather during a recent Army Warfighting Experiment event hosted by the Ministry of Defence’s Future Capability Group.

This Uavtek promo video shows the drone in action.

"Our experience in developing large volumes of secure hardware means we were able to help the team turn the excellent design into a real product that our Armed Forces can use," said James Gerard, principal technologist at BAE's Applied Intelligence business.

Innovations at the annual experiment event are designed to explore emerging technology and identify specific capabilities.

This year's focus was on the Agile Command, Control and Communications space suitable for rapid exploitation.

Emphasis is placed on innovations that push the boundaries of technology and military capability, testing a range of prototype systems by putting them in the hands of the user while giving military feedback to suppliers.

BAE and Uavtek are now working on the next developments of the nano-drone, exploring sensing equipment and capabilities that could be added, and how it could be integrated with other military equipment.

Boris Johnson in November pledged £16.5 billion ($22.47bn) to the defence budget over four years.

The extra funds are on top of a commitment to increase the existing £41.5bn budget by 0.5 percentage points above inflation.

Taken together, the increase amounts to £21.5bn until March 2025, and insiders said it would mean the UK remained Europe’s biggest defence spender.

Experts said the windfall represented the largest real-term increase in the defence budget since Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.

Mr Johnson said he decided to boost spending on the armed forces “in the teeth of the pandemic” because “the defence of the realm must come first”.

He is also keen to show US president-elect Joe Biden that the UK wants a strong military capability after Brexit.

But Mr Johnson also confirmed a delay for the government's long-awaited integrated review of the armed forces until the New Year.

The review will set out the UK's global priorities, and will include an assessment of the security risks facing the nation and how the British forces are adapting to meet them.

While speaking of reform this month, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace this month warned that "we are no longer leading and innovating enough", giving a range of threats including missile technology.

"We are in danger of being prepared only for the big fight that may never come, while our adversaries might choose to outflank it even if it does," Mr Wallace said.

"Some tough choices will still have to be made. But those choices will allow us to invest in new domains, new equipment and new ways of working."