Here’s an oddity in the world of drones: The S-100 Camcopter, manufactured by the Austrian company Schiebel, is operated by both the super-secret SEAL Team 6 and the Chinese Navy. Both the Pakistani and Indian armed forces fly it (the video above is courtesy of the Brazilian Navy). One has mysteriously crashed in Somalia (clue, it wasn’t Chinese). The drone has been secretly procured by the Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD) and the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to hunt for roadside bombs in places like Iraq.

And yet: A search of the last 10 years of the U.S. defense budget finds not one reference to the S-100. What makes this sucker so fricken’ secret?

The Camcopter is an unmanned flying helicopter, able to fly a fully autonomous programmed mission. With vertical takeoff and landing, there’s no need for a runway or other launch and recovery systems. It comes in white and black, can be used over land and water and has been tested by the navies of not just the United States and China, but also Italy, Pakistan, India, the UAE, Egypt, France, Germany, and Spain. It’s secretly flown by Jordanian special forces. The company has brochures available in the Russian language. That makes it probably the most ubiquitous drone in the world.

With six-plus hours endurance and a 100-pound payload, the Camcopter can be fitted with all kinds of modular black boxes, special sensors and devices; each one configured (and installed) by its owner to take advantage of the inherent flexibility of the flying marvel.

U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has tested it out as part of the Expeditionary Unmanned Aerial System – Maritime (EUAS-M) program to fly aboard small ships and as a psychological warfare platform to broadcast radio as well as to send texts to select recipients; JIEDDO has packed Camcopter with its “Hawkeye” anti-IED Ground Penetrating Synthetic Aperture Radar (GPSAR). Coming soon to a battlefield near you. Yikes.

Fun Facts about the S-100 Camcopter:

  • Late last year, the Camcopter was used by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) during their Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. It was (and likely still is), used to assess the general situation on the ground of the eastern Ukraine, as well as monitor the tenuous ceasefire following Russia’s involvement in the Crimean crisis in 2014.
  • Earlier this year, the Office of Naval Intelligence released a report on the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA(N)), which detailed the leadership, capabilities, and strategies of China’s naval service. The S-100 made a brief yet important mention in the report, as part of the growing arsenal of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles used by the Chinese navy. “The PLA(N) will probably emerge as one of China’s most prolific UAV users, employing UAVs to supplement manned ISR aircraft as well as to aid targeting for land-, ship-, and other air-launched weapons systems.”
  • Below is a photo from a source at Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), the higher headquarters of SEAL Team Six:

[Video, Brazilian Naval and Air Defense; First picture, US Navy; second and third images courtesy of the manufacturer Schiebel.]