The Army has selected six companies to work on prototypes for a new short-range reconnaissance (SRR) drone small enough to fit in a soldier’s pack, with the goal of moving toward production over the next few months, the program office said Monday.

Army Program Executive Office for Aviation has partnered with Defense Innovation, the Pentagon’s experimental technology office, and the Maneuver Center of Excellence for the SRR small unmanned manned aircraft (sUAS) program to go after commercial drone capabilities that could provide “eye in the sky” technologies on the battlefield.

Quadcopter drone that can be purchased commercially by anyone.

“Soldiers on today’s battlefield face an enemy that is able to purchase low-cost consumer drones, which provide capabilities previously limited to more expensive and uniquely military technologies. Advanced, commercially-developed small unmanned aircraft systems can dramatically reduce the time and cost of getting a flying vehicle in use,” the program office said in a statement. “To provide these capabilities, the Army is using agile design to execute iterative development based on Soldier testing and immediate feedback to the commercial companies.”

Officials originally detailed the SRR program in November with a notice for commercial solutions to find an “inexpensive, rucksack portable, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) sUAS that provides the platoon with a rapidly deployed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability” (Defense Daily, Nov. 9 2018).

Requirements for the drone include a 30-minute flight time, a three kilometer operational range, ability to fly semi-autonomously and capable of withstanding winds of 15 knots or greater.

SRR is also intended to handle modular full motion video and still image sensor use, electro-optical detection for up to 300 meters and ability to utilize infrared sensors for ranges up to 200 meters.

The Army did not disclose the six vendors awarded prototype Other Transaction Authority awards, while noting the program is expected to move from testing to production for a select capability in months rather than years.

“Engaging with industry in a more collaborative environment allows the Army to design, develop and deliver the latest technologies to benefit the soldier today as well as better inform how to address identified capability gaps tomorrow,” Carson Wakefield, assistant product manager for PEO Aviation, said in a statement.