On a far-flung battlefield, 100 miles from the nearest treatment center, a Navy corpsman signals for a small drone to bring life-saving blood to a wounded commando.
Meanwhile, a tiny drone shaped like a bug spies on enemy leaders. Another small drone swoops in to broadcast messages, in local languages and dialects, explaining why Navy SEALS are there. Elsewhere, swarms of drones, aided by artificial intelligence, challenge enemy forces jamming signals.
Welcome to the future of special operations warfare.
These technologies arenít yet in the hands of the militaryís commandos, but officials at U.S. Special Operations Command are eager to deliver them. Thatís why the command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, is seeking help from academics, industry and individuals who may have designed drones that can meet its needs.
In a request for information issued last month, SOCom asked that they showcase their wares in November during a demonstration at the Avon Park Air Force Range straddling Polk and Highlands counties. Commandos will observe plans and, when possible, drone systems in action. Later, the command might collaborate on further development.
SOCom officials could not be reached for comment, but Skip Parish, a Sarasota-based drone inventor, said the military is facing a drone arms race and Russia is a competitor.
Artificial intelligence with swarm networking on self-operated devices "are positioned to win wars," Parish said. "The race is on to bring this technology to the battlefield and Mr. Putin is betting his armyís success in any potential engagement on it."
Tampa drone expert Randy Goers called the SOCom request a "step in the right direction" that will benefit troops in the field and, down the line, civilians in distress.
Goers, a Tampa city planner and host of the streaming Drone Radio Show, said that of all SOComís drone requests, the blood delivery system and so-called nano drones stand out.
He said "the ability to get fresh blood sources into the field where people need them is really critical and will increase the chances of survival."
But beyond helping the troops, drones can supply blood to hospitals under fire ó like those in Syria ó where troops canít respond, Goers said. The technology might also be used someday to deliver blood during humanitarian crises, like a hurricane or earthquake, he said.
SOCom is looking for drones that can deliver at least 10 pounds of blood, keep it at a constant chilled temperature, and fly up to 100 miles.
Nano drones, typically weighing about as much as a tennis ball, can capture day and night images, fly under their own control and maneuver indoors.
"Nano technology is the kind of thing we see in television and the movies," Goers said. "A little bug that flies around inside a place that can spy and collect information."
The military already uses some of them, like the PD-100 Black Hornet nano drone which weighs about as much as a compact disc and can fly as high as two miles.
Alan Taylor, president of the Sarasota-based Rapid Composites drone company, said he is interested in applying for the SOCom demonstration.
"Certainly some of this has been around for a while but the shift is to new, less expensive solutions," said Taylor, whose company has pitched its wares at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa each May. "We have numerous drones on their way to production that meet many of SOComís desires already."
Those interested in demonstrating their drones have until Sept. 10 to contact SOCom at [email protected]ocom.mil or (813) 826-4646. The demonstration is scheduled Nov. 5 and 9 at Avon Park.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman