The US Army is experimenting with a new means of resupplying soldiers on the battlefield without putting human lives or expensive equipment at risk: disposable delivery drones.
Researchers at the US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory are testing an unpowered drone than can be dropped from a plane and glide to the drop site. Labelled the TACAD (Tactical Air Delivery) drone, the glider is capable of carrying up to 700lbs (320kg) of supplies and can be left abandoned after landing at the drop site.
According to IEEE Spectrum, the glider is made from inexpensive materials that can be found at most hardware stores, including plywood and basic metal fasteners. The technology used to guide the craft to its destination comprises just a "hobby-grade" GPS device, autopilot system and a few motors – worth a mere pittance relative to the US Military's multi-billion-dollar budget.
The TACAD is capable of gliding for tens of miles, meaning it can be dropped from an aeroplane well away from the battlefield and left to its own devices. The drones wouldn't be used to carry anything too fragile either, meaning it could essentially be crash-landed – albeit gently – into the field and left to rot.
Lt. Morgan Grossman from the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory said TACAD could be used to carry essentials such as food, water, batteries and other supplies "at the same price and precision as existing aerial delivery systems", namely guided parachute drops.
The US Army is exploring the idea that multiple TACADs could be deployed from a much larger drone acting as a mothership, according to IEEE Spectrum.
"While the intended use will have military applications, low-cost gliders like this could be used anywhere that quick delivery of supplies is needed and more traditional means of delivery are not available," said Lt Grossman.
"Applications such as disaster relief, remote mountain search and rescue, forest fire fighting, and remote site support could all utilise resupply by means such as this."