Soldiers at Fort Moore are competing in the Army’s first small drone competition with a wild obstacle course modeled off tactics and terrain of the war in Ukraine and threats American troops now face in the Middle East.

A new video posted to X by the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, or MCOE, at Fort Moore is shot from the drone’s perspective as it flies through square and circle-shaped openings, under tables and between windows cut out of shipping containers. The obstacle course was built as part of the Army’s inaugural competition for drone-flying skills and tactics, dubbed the Beehive Classic.

The classic will pit nine two-soldier teams in real-world scenarios using tactical drones like drone operations, attaching a payload harness, flying, reconnaissance tactics, identifying the threats and reporting them up to leadership.

“The real world scenario is they’re gonna have to fly fast. They have to be skilled at maneuvering their drones so an obstacle course was the right thing to test that,” Maj. Douglas A. Dietrich, deputy G3 for MCOE and project manager for small unmanned aircraft systems, sUAS, told Task & Purpose about the competition. “It’ll develop a lot of our drone operator skills.”

Two-soldier teams from each brigade will have two Skydio drones to use for the competition. If one goes down, the team will be able to use their second one.

“In practice, I’ve seen quite a few of them nick the window frames, the door frames and the like so it’ll be difficult. I expect a couple of the drones will go down and they’ll have to use their other drone to complete the course,” Dietrich said.

On day one, soldiers will complete a physical event with push-ups and a sprint/drag/carry “to simulate combat conditions and increase heart rates prior to using the equipment.” Then they’ll fly their drones through the obstacle course and maneuver into a building through open windows and doors to identify threats and gather intelligence. 

On day two, the top five teams will run through the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade’s Malvesti Obstacle Course (the same course used in the annual Best Ranger Competition), where soldiers will configure their drones to conduct short-range reconnaissance, attach payloads to the drones and drop them into a vehicle hatch. 

They’ll traverse the tactical objectives and report each enemy activity before returning to their base. Each of the events will have a score associated with it. If the top two teams have the same score, the fastest time will break the tie, according to Dietrich.

During the competition, soldiers will face various obstacles like a sniper on a tower, a downed helicopter and a scenario where they will drop a munition onto a vehicle. They’ll also have a scenario in a small village where the teams will use the drones to identify threats in a room like enemy personnel with weapons, booby trap doors, trip wires with grenades, unexploded ordinances or find intel sources such as maps and documents.

Small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) operators from the Maneuver Center of Excellence and tenant units compete in the inaugural Beehive Classic competition at  Fort Moore, Ga., May 6-8, 2024.  This is the U.S. Army's first sUAS competition. The event is structured to better train UAS operators and prepare our forces for the challenges of multi-domain operations.  (U.S. Army photo by Joey Rhodes II)
A soldier practices for day one of the inaugural Beehive Classic competition at Fort Moore, Ga., May 6-8, 2024. This is the Army’s first sUAS competition. (U.S. Army photo by Joey Rhodes II)

Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

“They’ll identify those before a clearing team will go into those rooms, they’ll help the leadership determine the best way to enter the buildings and how to avoid the threats and eliminate the threats,” he said.

Fort Moore’s inaugural Beehive competition will serve “as a proof of concept” for the Beehive Classic competition at the Columbus, Georgia Civic Center this fall hosted by the Maneuver Center of Excellence which will be open to military and non-governmental participants.

Drone training

The proliferation of drones in combat on the battlefield in Ukraine and Russia and increasing threats against U.S. troops based in the Middle East have pushed the Army to step up its use of drones in training and operations. 

“Everyone can go to YouTube and find a clip of someone in Ukraine, either the Russians or the Ukrainians destroying a tank or a bunch of tanks as well as individual personnel,” Dietrich said. “If we don’t do this, we would be way behind the power curve.”

Last month, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers at Fort Stewart trained with drone swarms to prepare for their upcoming Combat Training Center rotation at Fort Irwin, California. At the training center, brigades will face a multi- domain operation environment or a “denied disrupted, intermediate, low-bandwidth environment,” CW3 Jason Flowers told Task & Purpose.

A major part of their training was simply trying to spot the drones “through observables” like hearing or seeing or using UAS-identifying technology that the soldiers were trained on earlier in the week. Then soldiers would either report the drone sighting up the chain or react “in an offensive manner or a defensive manner,” according to Flowers. 

“We would fly one drone over to see where the unit was at to observe the unit. Then we fly multiple drones over to see their reaction, to see if they’re using that training that they got from the class here at Fort Stewart to see their reaction,” Flowers said.  “Majority of the units did react very well against it.”

To counter the rising threat of drones, the service is also buying more anti-drone technology but still lacks cheaper solutions to shooting them down. In late April, the Pentagon’s lead procurement chief said that the military had shot down more than 130 uncrewed aerial systems directed at troops in Syria, Iraq and the Red Sea with the price tag exceeding $100,000 per shot. 

At Fort Moore, soldiers average 800 UAS missions per month using the same 22,000-square-feet of indoor facility that soldiers will use at the Beehive competition, Dietrich said.

Dietrick said the facility was born out of an initiative by Maj. Gen. Curtis A. Buzzard, the commander of Fort Moore and MCOE, to prioritize UAS across the Army. He also tasked Fort Moore officials with finding a place on the base “to use drones day, night and in inclement weather.” Soon, Fort Moore officials found a hangar on the airfield they could use for drone training. 

“This facility really only came into being about five or six months ago,” Dietrich said. Currently master trainers use the space for training and officials use it to host drone demonstrations for partner nations like Canada, France, Brazil and Britain. 

This week it’ll be dedicated to the drone competition which Dietrich said is aimed at informing the Army’s training and drone strategy.

“It’ll better prepare any unit that’s deployed prior to arriving there and it’ll save lives,” Dietrich said.

The latest on Task & Purpose