Marines downrange may be using small unmanned aircraft by the end of 2017, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said.
"At the end of next year, my goal is every deployed Marine infantry squad has got their own quadcopter," Neller said Wednesday at the Marine Corps League's annual Modern Day Marine expo in Quantico, Virginia.
Neller made clear he was not advocating for any particular company to build the drones for the Marine Corps. He did not say how many Marines might get the drones or who in the squad would fly them.
However, in August Neller said that the Marines are looking to add an assistant squad leader for exactly that purpose.
"He would be the Marine that would fly the squad’s UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and help the squad leader manage the information," Neller said at the Centerfor Strategic and International Studies think tank. "We’re going to find out: Can the squad leader handle all of that."
No further information was immediately available on when the Marine Corps may award a contract for the drones, officials told Marine Corps Times.
One small drone that Marines have experimented with is the Black Hornet made by Prox Dynamics, said company general manager Arne Skjaerpe.
The Black Hornet is a classic helicopter, not a four-rotor quadcopter, he said. Weighing only 0.6 ounces, the drone is so small that it can fit in the palm of a Marine's hand.
"We don't know of any other operational UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] today in a comparable size," Skjaerpe told Marine Corps Times.
Over the past couple of years, Prox Dynamics has had "increasingly good contact" with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Marine Corps Combat Development Command and the Warfighting Lab, Skjaerpe said. The company has sold a small number of the drones to the Marines, mainly for test and evaluation, he said.
The Black Hornet has a range of a mile beyond the line of visual sight and is guided by the Global Positioning System, Skjaerpe said. It is designed to be flown with minimal training, he said.
"It provides live stream video and still pictures in HD quality back to the operator," he said. "It was designed and developed to give the dismounted squad and the single operator their own ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capability so that if something happens, if they have a need, they don't have to ask higher authorities. They have their own indigenous capability."
Jeff Schogol covers Marine Corps leadership, hardware, aviation and the Pacific for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org