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‘Cicada’ the Mini-Drone: Swarming to Terrorists?

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By In Homeland Security Staff

Last year, the U.S. military has announced its intention to switch to less visible means of targeting terrorists abroad by using mini-drones or Micro-Air Vehicles.

This may replace the larger Predator class drones where such large kinetic strikes elicit diplomatic outrage and local backlash on the populations below. In spite of the tremendous amount of precision and the increased efforts and pressure to limit and lessen collateral damage, American forces are learning to go smaller and stealthier.

Mini-drones will allow U.S. forces to throw out another surprise element in counter-terrorist operations as well as enhanced ISR missions.

The mini-drones can be launched as a swarm by aircraft or other aerial platform. The new model developed by the Naval Research Laboratory is called the Cicada (Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft). The program has been under exploratory development since 2006.

Cicada the Mini-Drone

The Cicada is presently little more than a paper airplane glider with GPS. The silent killers can soar at 47 MPH. They have already been tested at 57,000 plus feet three years ago in Yuma, Ariz. But right now they are envisioned for non-lethal roles that might include lacing targets or target areas. According to the Navy, 18 of these vehicles can fit in a six inch cube. They are seen by their designers as carrier pigeons or mini-surveillance dead-drop drones and less as replacements for larger strike drones using hellfire missiles.

Mini Drone Cicada
The ‘Cicada’ mini-drone. Photo: AFP

In many ways, the Cicada’s rise is similar to combat drones that were once exclusively fitted for ISR and later equipped for regular lethal missions. The Cicadas are cheaper and more simplistic than their macro-brothers with the idea being to drop more than the enemy can handle with the tactics over overwhelming them by numbers and “seeding” an area with sensors; although absent a video feed.

Aaron Kahn, from the Naval Research Laboratory told AFP, “We will put so many out there, it will be impossible for the enemy to pick them all up.”

Daniel Edwards, also from the Naval Research Laboratory said they were “very difficult to see” and that the Cicadas looked like “birds” when visible. Eavesdropping is going smaller and personnel.

The U.S. Navy has also been fascinated with the study of Cicadas for the use of sonar.

Cicadas have an unnerving effect of making tremendous noise after coming out of the ground from yearly to near 20 year cycles and clumsily molting, feeding and mating and then most of them falling to their death at the hands of happy birds or ended life cycles. This might be a decade or more away to bring the Cicada program to any lethality option, but equipping robotic Cicadas with similar noise generation features might also play into larger psychological and information operations of disruption.

As of now, Edwards said that “everyone [was] interested” after showing the Cicada off at the Pentagon’s “lab day.”

With ISIS taking Ramadi last Friday and through the weekend, the killer mini-drones could not get here soon enough for the U.S. military, which is using precision strikes from high altitudes of fighter jets, bombers and drones.

Next generation models of mini-drones might well take on the additional form of a swarming tornado of artificial locusts that could one day devastate and destroy the urban enemy in a matter of hours like the agrarian croplands. A micro-UAV locust model might become the next killer variant.

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