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NEWS | Aug. 5, 2021

Soldier Borne Sensor Soars Over West Point

By Justin Sweet PEO Soldier

The Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) took flight during the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point Cadet Leader Development Training (CLDT) over a two‐week period in July.

Product Manager Soldier Maneuver Sensors (PdM SMS) provided two first generation SBS systems and training to the cadets selected to pilot the unmanned aerial systems, nicknamed the “Black Hornet”.

Cadets employed the SBS systems while conducting offensive and defensive training operations led by the West Point Department of Military Instruction. The opportunity arose through a well‐established partnership between PdM SMS and the West Point Robotics Research Center who also supported the event.

CLDT is a Cadet Summer Training (CST) program offered to third and fourth year West Point cadets to train, mentor and assess basic leadership skills. More than 1,400 cadets learned effective communication and tactical decision making skills in a series of small unit tactical training scenarios.

“I’m flying the Black Hornet in support of a platoon sized attack,” said Carlos Vaquero, a third year USMA cadet selected to pilot the SBS. “It’s really fascinating because it's the only time that cadets will get to do this kind of peer on peer training. Both sides are equal in size and have the same capabilities and equipment, including full gun teams, fire support, and technology. My counterpart is piloting the drone in support of the defense.”

The CLDT cadets were divided into platoon sized units reflecting the Army’s small unit structure. They were then sent through the various training scenarios, called lanes, with different cadets taking leadership roles for each iteration. Assigned positions ranged from Platoon Leader (PL) down to forward observer. The leaders were then responsible for planning, coordinating, and executing their mission just as they would in the Army.

“The cadets are learning a lot of lessons and getting a ton of experience because it’s on them to conduct the attack, and they can be as creative as they want to be with the assets they have,” said Vaquero. “So far the PLs have had me fly the SBS to conduct route reconnaissance, inspect enemy defenses, and provide surveillance around our position.”

The SBS is an unmanned aerial system consisting of two drones, one day and one night, carried at the squad level to provide short reconnaissance and surveillance missions at a moment’s notice. The drone’s video is transmitted wirelessly to the display unit to allow Soldiers to see into danger areas and dead spaces without exposing themselves to the enemy.

“The SBS is a great tool and can be deployed at all stages of an operation, whether sitting at an OP [observation post] or in a firefight,” said Vaquero. “It facilitates and maintains situational awareness of the battlefield.”

The cadets utilized the SBS in various ways to conduct their mission and found the asset to be extremely useful.

“I've been using it mostly for reconnaissance, seeing where enemy movement avenues of approach might be located,” said McKensey Cope, a fourth year USMA cadet selected to pilot the SBS. “I would definitely use the Black Hornet as an Army leader. Drones are relatively new to the Army and this experience sort of broadens my eyes into what the future battlefield could look like and how useful drones can be in those situations.”

Although it is common to see PEO Soldier training Soldiers on new equipment at operational units across the Army, this is the first time the Army acquisition unit has participated in CST and provided cadets with visibility of the Army’s modernization effort.

“This event provided us at PdM SMS the opportunity to demonstrate to the future leaders of the Army the cutting‐edge technology Soldiers are currently using in the field,” said Maj. John Dibble III, Assistant Product Manager SMS, West Point graduate and former West Point instructor. “The more exposure the cadets get with this type of equipment the more likely they will understand and reach the potential of the capabilities they provide.”

“We want to give cadets hands‐on experience with the SBS because it will instill them with a higher level of confidence in the equipment,” said Dibble. “As future leaders, they will determine whether the equipment is actually put to use so it’s imperative they fully understand the capabilities and advantages this kind of technology brings to the battlefield.”

The SBS has already been fielded to many of the Army’s active infantry brigade combat teams. While PdM SMS continues to field SBS to the Army and make improvements to its capabilities, they also are pursuing its integration with other PEO Soldier situational awareness technologies such as the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle‐Binocular, Nett Warrior and the Integrated Visual Augmentation System.

“This is a technology that has transformed today’s battlefield—Soldiers are less likely to go into harm’s way and leaders have greater situational awareness than they have ever had,” said Dibble.