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DefendTex Drone40: Part Drone, Part Explosive

The Drone40 40mm quadrotor drone from DefendTex is not entirely new. It first caught my attention back in 2019 when the “programmable 40mm loitering munition” was displayed at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa. The militaries of other countries have deployed the DefendTex Drone40 since then, but it wasn't until this summer (the summer of 2021) that a US military formation publicly utilized it. 

The D40 drone can be utilized both for intelligence gathering and as a directed weapon. Deployment is via hand or launched from 40mm grenade launchers like the M320 GLM. Initial reporting indicates it is not compatible with older M203 series UBGLs, and there have been mentions of a potential 12 bore variant to be used with 12 gauge shotguns.

DefendTex Drone 40

The DefendTex Drone40 utilizes a quadcopter system of four rotors to maneuver, remaining airborne in a combination of flight and loitering time of up to an hour. The drone cruises at approximately 20m/sec (just shy of 45mph) with an optimum range of 20km (12 miles) or more. 

Once aloft the D40 is tasked depending upon its payload. These can include a camera or a variety of munitions, including anti-armor, fuel-air, HE/frag, smoke, electronic warfare/counter-warfare, laser designation, and something that by its description sounds like a Noise Flash Diversionary Device (NFDD) function. When a surveillance mission is complete, or if a kinetic use is deferred, the DefendTex Drone40 is recovered by hand, using a tether.

The mixed payload types and the D40's “Multi-Round Simultaneous Impact” capability will allow both individual deployment and coordinated “swarm” attacks. For instance, DefendTex Drone40s with cameras could be set to watch infiltration routes while others loaded with anti-personnel or anti-armor munitions run racetracks nearby awaiting use.

So is the DefendTex Drone40 categorized as an Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) asset or a “loitering munition”?

The test and evaluation process of the D40 took place during a recent exercise called Operation 40 Switch. During that exercise, the DefendTex Drone40 (and other equipment, including AeroVironment's Switchblade drone) were used and evaluated by elements of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (1/2 Marines) at Camp Lejeune, N.C. 1/2 Marines is the “experimental infantry battalion” for 2d MARDIV. The unit is tasked with, as 2d MARDIV describes it, testing “…new gear, operating concepts, and force structures.” 

DefendTex Drone 40

1/2's findings, they advise, will help refine infantry battalions Marine Corps-wide. 

The D40 is not the only grenade-launched surveillance drone out there. For instance, last year the US Army Research Laboratory announced the development of the Grenade Launched Unmanned Aerial System (GLAUS). The GLAUS came in two versions, one a small paragliding system, the other a helicopter-style drone running on coaxial rotors. 

Unlike the DefendTex Drone40, however, the GLAUS was not designed for optional use as a kinetic weapon (though it could certainly put the hurt on somebody if flown into them kamikaze-style). 

DefendTex Drone 40

Another drone being evaluated is the Switchblade. The Switchblade, though small enough to carry in a ruck, is much larger than the vertical-bodied DefendTex Drone40 and utilizes a rear propeller to move and maneuver. The Switchblade is tube-launched (the launcher looks like a small mortar) and can also be used in both ISR and kinetic roles.

The USMC is not the only military or branch evaluation drone technology. In mid-July, the UK's Royal Marine Commandos utilized a wide variety of unmanned systems during Autonomous Advance Force 4.0, an exercise designed to evaluate how such technology could support commando forces on the battlefield. Among the tasks accomplished during those trials was the successful tactical resupply of ammunition to assaulting formations and the delivery of (simulated) blood to medics on the battlefield.

DefendTex Drone 40

Drones are used for military and security purposes by countries and non-state actors around the world, and although the machines used by the latter lack the sophistication of their high-tech military counterparts that gap is closing. The use of drones in an offensive capacity by criminal organizations, terrorist groups, and insurgent forces is nothing new. Nor is a multiplicity of other uses we've seen, including smuggling, ISR and counter-ISR, signals intelligence (SIGINT), psychological operations (PsyOps), and the attempted assassination of specific individuals – in short, virtually everything the “good guys” might use them for. 

40mm drone grenade GLAUS

Just within the last few months in Mexico, for example, drones have been used to hit a security forces convoy in Michoacán and to target specific law enforcement leadership. “Drone strikes” are also used in internecine cartel warfare and have been utilized as a “poor man's CAS” in much the same way as Daesh utilized armored VBIEDs in synchronized strikes to offset their lack of guided indirect fire and air power. 

40mm drone grenade GLAUS

The terror group Lashkar-e-Mustafa recently attacked the Indian Air Force's Jammu Air Base in Kashmir with explosive-laden drones just weeks ago (as of this writing). Many readers may remember the use of coordinated drone attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia by Iran-backed Houthis in 2019; what is less well known is that a similar attack on a military parade in Yemen earlier that year killed at least six people, including Yemen's chief of military intelligence

If field-expedient weapons utilizing civilian/commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) achieved such a relatively high level of success, it seems reasonable to expect that the DefendTex Drone40, Switchblade, and other systems like them will be a significant force multiplier when the time comes for those acting in the United States interests to put boot to ass. 

DefendTex Drone40 Features as detailed by the manufacturer follow:

  • Grenade Launcher Compatible
  • Low Cost Per unit
  • Explosive Payload Option
  • ISR Payload Option
  • Swarming
  • Autonomous Flight
  • Waterproof

You can learn more about the D40 at defendtex.com.
Read more about Operation 40 Switch at the Marine Corps Times.

Images via DVIDS and the US Army. https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6724916/eyes-sky


[Editor's Note: David Reeder is the editor for The Mag Life, a blog for GunMag Warehouse.
URL: gunmagwarehouse.com.]


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2 responses to “DefendTex Drone40: Part Drone, Part Explosive”

  1. Joe says:

    Don’t give them to General Milley; he’ll just hand them over to the Taliban (or China).

  2. Kyle says:

    In 2011, a company tried to sell this type of system to Ft Benning’s Capability Development Integration Directorate (CDID). It seemed interesting to me, but I was told the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army directed no more 40mm grenade projects. This version is more developed, maybe it was worth it to wait for a COTS version, instead of the Army bureaucracy getting involved in developing it.

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  • In 2011, a company tried to sell this type of system to Ft Benning’s Capability Development Integration Directorate (CDID). It seemed interesting to me, but I was told the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army directed no more 40mm grenade projects. This version is more developed, maybe it was worth it to wait for a COTS version, instead of the Army bureaucracy getting involved in developing it.

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