The Defence Systems & Equipment International Exhibition in London included all the defense behemoths, and firms like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems all turned out in force. But some of the more interesting gadgets came from smaller outfits.
This is Lance Bombardier Dave McLaughlin holding a handy new drone called Maveric. Just throw it into the air and you have an instant aerial reconnaissance capability. Made by Prioria Robotics, it weighs two pounds but has a respectable 45-minute flight time and can beam back video images from six miles away. Maveric has two cameras, one in the nose and one on a gimbal mount under the chin, so it can orbit over and area of interest and maintain continuous coverage. Control can be by joystick or autonomous, aided by on-board GPS.
This is all fairly standard, but the really clever feature is the carbon-fiber wing. To pack away the Maveric, you just roll it up and put it in a six-inch diameter tube, a process that takes seconds. Drones don’t get much more portable than that.
For close-in tactical reconnaissance you might want something like the Recon Scout XT. Michael Sarazine of Recon Robotics gave me a demo. The robot weighs just over a pound and had a throwing handle so it can be easily lobbed — through a doorway, perhaps, or over a wall. The big flexible wheels allow it to trundle over small obstacles, with a battery life of around an hour. The Recon Scout’s special feature is an infra-red camera and illuminator which automatically cuts in when it gets dark. This allows the Scout to see in zero light conditions without being seen. It’s also useful for other hard-to-reach locations, like checking underneath vehicles.
Recon Scout robots are already used by over a hundred police and security agencies, and in May the US Army ordered 150 of them for $1.35 million. The price is a major asset – at less than $10,000 a pop, it’s an affordable unit which can be issued in large numbers.
Tom Jonassen of armor makers NFM Group showed off the company’s new HEXA plate, a body armor insert giving a larger area of coverage than traditional rectangular-style inserts. Jonassen tells me that the larger plate is popular with special operations units who have tested it recently.
The effective area is further increased by the FREC technology, a thermoplastic process which ensures that the edges and corners of the plate are as effective as the center. This, the company claims, can improve effective coverage by as much as 60 percent. The level of protection given to HEXA by the National Institute of Justice is Level IV, which means it will stop pretty much anything out there — including armor-piercing bullets. NFM also design the plate to be capable of withstanding multiple hits – ceramic armor may crack after the first shot.
Craig Magill of Neopup showed me the company’s highly innovative “Personal Area Weapon” which falls somewhere between a grenade launcher and a rifle. This South African invention fires fires a novel 20mm high-explosive round weighing a hefty hundred and ten grams. The Neopup features a unique recoil mitigation system which allows the shooter to cope what would otherwise be a shoulder-dislocating level of recoil. It is accurate enough to hit point targets at six hundred metres, making it superior to 40mm grenade launchers which have a much lower muzzle velocity. At closer range the sheer size of the projectile gives it some significant advantages — it can punch through 8mm steel plates at a hundred meters making it highly effective against vehicles.
It may also become the weapon for choice for tackling alien invaders – the Neopup can be glimpsed in the movie District 9.
Being located on the Thames River, DSEi has a maritime element as well. There were a few Royal Navy warships, and some smaller craft, like this XSR, described as “a luxury power boat with super car style” for navies that want to make a splash. It would have been perfect for a replay of The World Is Not Enough: In the distance, you could spot the dome of O2, formerly the infamous Millennium Dome.