Remotely piloted aircraft, more commonly known as drones, have become an established part of warfare, serving as both intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR for short) assets as well as attack platforms.
More recently, smaller man-portable drones have been proposed as a way to provide infantry units with a faster organic method of scanning the battlefield around them and relaying critical intelligence and data back to infantry leaders. Now, Nexter — a French defense contractor — wants to take drone usage in a different direction and attach them to heavy armored vehicles.
More specifically… tanks.
The gunner’s station in a Leclerc tank
(Wikimedia Commons photo by Rama)
The theory behind fitting out tanks with small drones is maddeningly simple — just tether a drone to the hull or turret of the tank, and integrate scanners and sensors aboard the drone into the tank’s onboard computers. This allows the drone to seamlessly pass what it sees to the tank’s crew, and allows them to use the data to get a visual on the enemy before the enemy sees them, or to dial in their shots for better effects on target.
Using drones, tanks could shoot “blind” out of a defilade position, allowing them to mail accurate shots downrange without having to break out of cover or expose themselves to enemy fire and retaliation.
Nexter, the developer of the Leclerc main battle tank, states that its drone, which will be fully unveiled later this year at the 2019 International Defense Exhibition Conference in the UAE, will be able to designate targets for the Leclerc, and will likely work in tandem with the company’s upcoming POLYNEGE and M3M “smart” 120 mm shells.
Given that the idea and its surrounding development is in full swing over in Europe, it’s only a matter of time until target-designating drones become an asset for American armored elements, especially the Army and Marine Corps’ M1A2 Abrams tank units, which have seen action in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the past 15 years.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Ted Banks)
In recent years, both the Army and General Dynamics Land Systems (which supports, produces, and rebuilds M1A2s) have made moves towards developing methods for the Abrams to not only interface with drones, but also take control of them and use them to attack targets in a dynamic combat environment.
With a concurrent push for guided artillery munitions and “smart” shells for tanks, it’s only a matter of a few short years until the Department of Defense brings in Nexter’s tethered drone concept and implements it across the board with the latest iteration of the Abrams — the M1A2SEP V4.