Back in June 2008 I did one of my Weekend Wings articles on inflatable aircraft. It was an interesting article to prepare, particularly because inflatable wings - rather than entire aircraft - appeared to be a coming thing in small unmanned aerial vehicles and other applications.
It looks like progress continues in the field. Missile manufacturer MDBA has announced its contender for the US Army's Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (LMAMS). According to the LMAMS Request for Information:
1. Subject: The LMAMS is designed to provide a soldier carried, soldier ground launched Non-Line-Of-Sight (NLOS) loitering precision guided system organic at the small unit level that allows unprecedented engagement of enemy combatants without exposing the Warfighter to direct enemy fires.
2. Description: As a result of issuing this RFI, the Government expects to receive technical data describing the proposed concept and innovative methodology information to assist in the following programmatic planning: (1) Determine the ability of current and near term emerging technology to support an LMAMS, (2) Identify feasible system concept alternatives that meet the objectives stated in Paragraph 3, below, (3) Determine the approximate cost information for each alternative, and (4) Determine the estimated performance characteristics associated with each alternative.
. . .
3. Capabilities: This capabilities section enumerates the high-level functional capabilities for LMAMS. The contemplated LMAMS would provide the ground combatant Soldier a NLOS day/night capable precision guided system with the ability to effectively engage and retarget personnel/non-standard vehicle targets. LMAMS will provide increased lethality by quickly locating, tracking, and engaging time sensitive, fleeting targets, or enemy in defilade without operator exposure to threat precision small arms fire.
There's more at the link.
MDBA's proposed offering is known as TIGER, standing for Tactical Grenade Enhanced Range. According to ARES, it's:
... basically a 1lb warhead with inflatable wing, electric propeller, autopilot and camera attached.
Hand-launched, the weapon will fly for up to 2 miles, following pre-programmed waypoints and sending back video from a nose-mounted camera to a laptop ground station, which the operator can use to adjust the impact point.
Again, there's more at the link.
That's a very interesting application of an inflatable wing. The combat soldier could carry two or three of these things in small canisters attached to his gear. When longer-range interdiction of an enemy position becomes necessary, he can take one out of its canister, inflate the wing (presumably using a small gas cylinder in the canister), and send it on its way, controlling its flight through a small console or other device. It'll be almost completely silent, using an electric motor, and invisible in twilight or at night (I presume the camera will be both day- and night-capable). Even during the day, its small size will make it hard to see, and even harder to bring down.
The ability to put up to a pound of high explosive on target with precision-guided accuracy, anywhere within a 2-mile radius, should make the average grunt very happy - and his opponents more than a little paranoid!