If you have seen an MQ-9 Reaper before, that must have left you wondering, what are military drones used for? Look back at the small quadcopters we use for leisure or business, and the question perplexes us even more.
Military drones have an extensive range of applications. They take pictures as the regular ones do but with a much higher resolution and high-tech cameras. You will find these drones in surveillance, combat, reconnaissance, and situational awareness.
According to Business Insider’s report, nearly 100 countries own and operate military drones. It is in this view that we will explain the following in this article:
- What makes military drones unique
- Applications of military drones
- What the future holds
So, without further ado, let’s see where these special drones fit in the hands of the military.
The Uses of Military Drones
Military forces around the world have employed drones extensively in their bid to safeguard their nations. It flows from intelligence and surveillance to actual combat missions.
Though being unmanned presents some limitations, manufacturers sweat it out to give them more capabilities. Today, UAVs perform almost all the functions of a fighter jet and even more.
Let’s look at surveillance, for example. It is improbable that a fighter jet will deploy to take pictures and videos of specific ground targets.
On the other hand, drones do not require an onboard pilot, and they are relatively smaller and able to attain even faster speeds. Moreover, they can hover like a helicopter. You can read our article on the features to learn more about military drones.
We could go on and on in answering your question (what are military drones used for?) here, but let us break the uses down one after the other.
Intelligence is crucial to a country’s defense, even more so in today’s society. While ground espionage is still in play, some areas are too dangerous for human infiltration.
It could be armed militias or worse. In situations like that, drones present the perfect choice. They are unmanned and can traverse difficult terrains.
Intelligence gathering should be the first thing that comes to mind for anyone wondering, what are military drones used for? You can quickly tell by looking at the tiny cameras on the quadcopters.
It would be practically impossible to control drones without cameras and sensors. While we have cameras for navigation, they are other dedicated long-range optics that take pictures and record videos.
The AAI RQ-7 Shadow is one of the United States’ widely used intelligence drones. It has a top speed of 130mph and an endurance rating of up to 9 hours. First introduced in 1991, the drone can cover up to 68 miles.
A more advanced intelligence drone is the MQ-9 Predator. It can reach up to 135mph and stay in flight for up to 24 hrs.
The MQ-1 Predator’s high-powered cameras and sensors have been so effective that it has seen combat in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc. Hence, the need for high-tech features in intelligence-gathering drones.
Surveillance and Reconnaissance
While these two terms fall under intelligence, we feel it’s best we go deeper into them. In totality, we aim to answer your question (what are military drones used for?).
Surveillance and reconnaissance are both intelligence-gathering missions. However, the latter takes a shorter period and has a more specific target.
That is not to say that surveillance is random. Of course not. Notwithstanding, reconnaissance usually takes place shortly before a combat mission.
It aims to obtain the latest status of the intended target before going in for a strike. On the other hand, surveillance takes longer, even with an intended target.
What better way to keep in touch with targets like drones? Let’s see examples of drones used for surveillance and reconnaissance.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-speed, advanced surveillance drone. With a top speed of 371mph and a range of 14,154 miles, it is the UAV to beat in such missions.
Its high-altitude radar and infrared sensors have served the US Air Force for decades. However, it comes in at an estimated cost of $223 million.
More affordable options include the RQ-20 Puma and the RQ-21 Blackjack. Notwithstanding, they come with trade-offs in speed, range, and endurance.
We can’t answer your question (what are military drones used for?) without including this crucial aspect.
The worst thing for ground forces is to go in blind. Before advancement, it is crucial to know what is ahead, whether ambushes, mines, or enemy troops.
For missions like this, short-range and portable drones are perfect. Fast deployment becomes a necessity to provide real-time situational awareness.
Being able to anticipate enemy action is an essential element of winning. Even police forces use drones to monitor enemy positions before launching an assault.
Drones for situational awareness do not only pick up enemy positions but also weather, terrain, and other natural variables. This way, they know the equipment to take with them and how to better adapt to the conditions.
The MQ-8 Fire Scout is a popular option for situational awareness. It has reduced noise and improved lift capacity, which is suitable for such missions.
The MQ-8 Fire Scout brings 115 knots, 8-hour endurance, and 50 miles of range. Nevertheless, it costs around $14.6 million.
Other portable and more affordable alternatives include the RQ-11 Raven and the RQ-12 Wasp. They are budget drones but portable for quick deployments in the field.
The RQ-11 Raven, in particular, does not need a runway as it can deploy from the hands. That shows how efficient and adaptable drone manufacturers are to the changing fields of battle.
You might have wondered when we will mention combat to answer your question, what are military drones used for? Well, here it is.
What is a military drone if it is not combat-ready? Today, UAVs can carry out missile strikes even in extreme conditions.
They have become so advanced that military forces, even the US, race to get the best. Also, they remove the need for physical pilots, saving lives in the process.
Combat drones come with all the high-tech features you expect in the UAV industry. Of course, they need all the help they can get to battle it with aerial defense systems, enemy aircraft, and even weather.
Military drones have extensive usage in combat, and you could categorically say that it is the primary purpose for which they were designed.
General Atomics’ Avenger is one of the most advanced Military drones in service to the United States Air Force. It uses a turbofan engine, unlike the MQ-9 Reaper, the previous model.
With a two-person ground crew, this UAV can deliver missile strikes over 15,000 miles from its control point. Also, its internal weapons storage design reduces trails, making it less visible to radar systems.
Israel has been a global leader in weaponized drones for years now. Among its offerings is the heavily-advanced Heron TP with a 2700kg payload capacity.
This UAV can carry Rafael Spike anti-tank missiles to a target more than 1000km away. Also, it has all the fancy features, including ground moving target indicator (GMTI), electronic intelligence, laser designator, and synthetic aperture radar.
What Makes Military Drones Unique?
Drones have evolved to become essential elements in our lives today. For example, photographers can now reach new levels and take much wider pictures, and businesses can reveal their structures more immersively.
Track down to the military or armed forces, and you will discover even more applications. Reports from the Brad’s College Center for the Study of Drones claim over 600 law enforcement agencies in the US use drones.
That figure shows how extensive the usage of these UAVs has become and how crucial they are to fighting crime. However, the military gets to play with the big boys.
Military drones are expensive, costing millions to obtain one unit. Take the Turkish Bayraktar TB2, for instance. The UAV costs $5 million for a single unit, among the affordable ones.
With such heavy cost comes high-end capabilities. Of course, no country would want to doll out millions on a piece of equipment that isn’t sophisticated.
Now that we have answered your question, what are military drones used for? Let’s see what makes them unique. In so doing, you will have a better understanding of their uses.
High definition (HD) cameras are one of the highlights of military drones. They have extended range vision capabilities, meaning they maintain clarity regardless of the zoom level.
It is not uncommon to see these UAVs with night vision. Yes, this feature comes in handy for night operations.
Note that the camera for piloting differs from the one for picking targets. Kappa Optronics, the manufacturer of the UAV piloting camera, Flight Eye 350, is one of the manufacturers in this sector.
Primarily, military drone cameras can take latency-free images and record distortion-free videos. Without such abilities, surveillance, reconnaissance, and even combat will suffer.
Military drones are designed to fly like fighter jets. Hence, they can attain almost similar speeds and maneuverability. After all, how would they reach their targets quickly and escape if pursued?
Lockheed Martin, a front-leading military contractor, is neck-deep in its ambition to produce a drone that can reach up to 7400km/hr. That number is insane, but let’s look at more realistic figures.
The Avenger, one of America’s most widely used drones, can reach a speed of 460mph. Other sophisticated drones worldwide, however, hover around the 150mph mark.
Nevertheless, we will see faster drones as manufacturers continue to break into supersonic speeds. Think speed when wondering what are military drones used for?
Military drones, especially the combat ones, operate like fighter jets. While it is a good thing, it leaves them vulnerable to attacks.
Contrary to superstitions, these UAVs are not invisible; they are visible to the naked eye and radar systems, allowing aerial defense systems to come into play.
While manufacturers experiment with radar cloaking technology, they equip drones with radar systems. This feature helps the pilots detect inbound threats and take counter-measures.
A radar system could detect an enemy fighter jet or missile and go into defensive mode. Military drones usually fly solo and not in a formation, unlike fighter jets.
What are Military Drones Used For? The Future
The future of weaponized drones is bright, with many countries taking steps to protect their military personnel. We will see advances in speeds, endurance, and range.
While UAVs will not necessarily get larger, we should expect an increase in features. Today’s versions are already sophisticated, but there is room for improvement.
Drones have become interwoven with military operations, from surveillance, and situational awareness, to live combat. The military will look for ways to equip UAVs with advanced weapons for air superiority.
The initial purpose of drones was to eliminate the need for pilots, especially in intricate and complex terrains. Manufacturers accomplished this, but the military kept asking for more.
Today, we have UAVs that can successfully carry out missile strikes and evade enemy air defense systems. Tomorrow, we might have drones that can carry out electronic warfare without dropping a single warhead.
The endless possibilities are endless, and we cannot ultimately know the secret research programs that countries have sanctioned for air superiority. Nevertheless, we can say that we expect more advanced drones in the coming years.
What are military drones used for? They have extensive surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat applications, and several features give them these capabilities.
The list is endless, from high-definition cameras to high-tech sensors and radars. Nevertheless, they work hand-in-hand to deliver maximum and superior performance.
Surveillance drones have the highest endurance and range. Also, they pack the sharpest of cameras and long-range optics. After all, they need to capture their targets regardless of distance.
On the other hand, combat drones are more all-rounded and have the endurance, range, and high-end optics but add even more features. Speed is of essence to combat UAVs, and we have examples that reach up to 390 miles per hour.
The military designs and tunes its drones for different purposes. While situational awareness drones can deploy from your hands, combat drones, usually larger, require runways, like fighter jets.