All rounded edges with a futuristic shape and look, the Northrop Grumman Bat drone looks like something out of the UFO crowd’s wet dream.

It’s a mini-version of the high flying stealth drones of the Sentinel family and a more flexible follow-on to the Puma, which is of the same generation. But it’s an adopted bastard.

In April 2009, Northrop Grumman acquired Sonoma Photonics, Inc., as well as assets from Swift Engineering’s Killer Bee product line, which eventually became Bat. On behalf of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), the Air Force Research Laboratory also funded the AeroMech Engineering Inc. Fury B platform as part of its Sand Dragon system. All were rushed and quietly deployed, configured with sensors for IED detection, and shipped to Afghanistan to conduct road reconnaissance and aid with route clearance.

What distinguished Bat from all of the other drones of the same size, besides the fact that it survived the war frenzy and flourishes behind a veil of secrecy, is that using Internet protocol (IP) it can fly Beyond-Line-Of-Sight (BLOS). And, because it is completely modular in design, it can accommodate wingspans ranging from 6.5 to 33.2 feet. It is thus capable of not just surveillance with a wide variety of sensors, including Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT), utilized for counter-IED missions in Afghanistan, but can also act as communications relay, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) collector and Electronic Warfare (EW) jammer. It has also been tested at sea.

Fun facts about Bat/Sand Dragon/Killer Bee:

  • In keeping with the UFO theme, Bat has been flown at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, dubbed by some alien enthusiasts as the “New Area 51.”
  • Also, the navy has been looking into a floating “UAV Mothership,” for quite some time. More recently, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, put out calls for a flying UAV Mothership. Interesting nomenclature!
  • While not necessarily supported by any other specs, one document claims Killer Bee is able to carry and fire weapons, which makes one wonder what “Bat” is capable of...

[All images courtesy of Northrop Grumman, except for final image, via AP.]