UAVs in the U.S. military
As of January 2014, the U.S. military operates a large number of unmanned aerial systems (UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles): 7,362 RQ-11 Ravens; 990 AeroVironment Wasp IIIs; 1,137 AeroVironment RQ-20 Pumas; and 306 RQ-16 T-Hawk small UAS systems and 246 MQ-1 Predators and MQ-1C Gray Eagles; 126 MQ-9 Reapers; 491 RQ-7 Shadows; and 33 RQ-4 Global Hawk large systems.
The military role of unmanned aircraft systems is growing at unprecedented rates. In 2005, tactical- and theater-level unmanned aircraft alone had flown over 100,000 flight hours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which they are organized under Task Force Liberty in Afghanistan and Task Force ODIN in Iraq. Rapid advances in technology are enabling more and more capability to be placed on smaller airframes, which is spurring a large increase in the number of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) being deployed on the battlefield. The use of SUAS in combat is so new that no formal DoD wide reporting procedures have been established to track SUAS flight hours. As the capabilities grow for all types of UAS, nations continue to subsidize their research and development, leading to further advances and enabling them to perform a multitude of missions. UAS no longer only perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, although this still remains their predominant type. Their roles have expanded to areas including electronic attack, drone strikes, suppression or destruction of enemy air defense, network node or communications relay, combat search and rescue, and derivations of these themes. These UAS range in cost from a few thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars, with aircraft ranging from less than one pound (0.45 kg) to over 40,000 pounds (18,000 kg).
Classifications by the United States military
Main article: U.S. military UAS groups
The modern concept of U.S. military UAVs is to have the various aircraft systems work together in support of personnel on the ground. The integration scheme is described in terms of a "Tier" system and is used by military planners to designate the various individual aircraft elements in an overall usage plan for integrated operations. The Tiers do not refer to specific models of aircraft but rather roles for which various models and their manufacturers competed. The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps each has its own tier system, and the two systems are themselves not integrated.
Use in the "War on Terror"
See also: Drone strikes in Pakistan and Drone strikes in Yemen
The Obama administration announced the deployment of 30,000 new troops in Afghanistan in December 2009, but there was already an increase of attacks by unmanned Predator UAVs against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas, one of which probably killed a key member of al-Qaeda. However, neither Osama bin Laden nor Ayman al-Zawahiri was the likely target, according to reports. According to a report of the New America Foundation, armed UAV strikes had dramatically increased under President Obama, even before his deployment decision. There were 43 such attacks between January and October 2009. The report draws on what it deems to be "credible" local and national media stories about the attacks. This can be compared to a total of 34 in all of 2008, which was President Bush's last full year in office. Between 2006 and 2009, UAV-launched missiles allegedly had killed between 750 and 1,000 people in Pakistan, according to the report. Of these, about 20 people were said to be leaders of al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated groups. Overall, 66 to 68 percent of the people killed were militants, and 31 to 33 percent were civilians. U.S. officials disputed the percentage for civilians. The U.S. Air Force has recently begun referring to larger UAS as Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), such as Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk, to highlight the fact that these systems are always controlled by a human operator at some location.
CIA-ordered drone strikes were ended by President Obama, who transferred control entirely to the military under a separate legal authority. President Trump reversed this decision in 2017.
UAVs and Morality
Dr. Peter Lee is a Portsmouth University Lecturer in military and leadership ethics specializing in the ethics and ethos of remotely piloted aircraft. In his paper, Rights, Wrongs and Drones: Remote Warfare, Ethics and the Challenge of Just War, he claims that no weapon system has prompted more debate, speculation and opposition since the nuclear controversies of the 1980s (pg 21). While the issues of individual rights, legality and morality, have advanced over a decade. In this advancement, the moral arguments surrounding war have shifted from state-centric to individually focused which may have significant consequences for the moral component of fighting power as understood by western powers.
In an article published by NPR titled "The Legal and Moral Issues of Drone Use", Amitai Etzioni, professor of International Affairs and Sociology at George Washington University, states that while drones have been successful in fighting Al-Qaida, and Taliban members, 24% of kills have been civilian casualties. Etzioni postulates that civilian casualties have given rise to increased violence around the Afghan-Pakistan border resulting in an uptick of suicide attacks. Yet, she considers drone strikes to be “cleaner instruments of war” than special ops, or bombings, justifying the use of them in a utilitarian sense. For example, when the leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed by a drone strike, his father-in-law and wife were also killed. During the Obama administration, the state department's top lawyer, Harold Koh, stated that U.S. has the authority under international law to defend its citizens from terrorist organizations by using lethal force, and targeting leaders of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. The UN's Study on Armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles supports Harold's statement through the ambiguity of the law surrounding “imminent armed attacks”, “Imminent” means “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation” (pg 38). This preventive measure of self-defense against terrorism is justified on the basis of the difficulty of foreseeing an attack by seemingly unpredictable non-state actors like Al-Qaida or the Taliban. Terrorism poses an impending threat that justifies drone strikes even if it means the death of innocent civilians. However, as stated by Dr. Peter Lee, the shift towards individual focused moral arguments have hidden the violations of the rules of war by terrorist organizations under the mask of sovereign citizenship. As Etzioni states, “They want to violate the rules of war on the one hand and then be protected on the other. You can't have it both ways.”
The first Committee of the UN General Assembly saw its very first side event on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, on Friday, 23 October 2015. According to the UN, an increasing number of countries and non-state actors have shown interest in the use of both commercial and military use of drones. One of the panel experts, Mr. Zwijnenburg concluded the meeting by stating that clarity surrounding drone strikes is necessary to provide the international community for the legal interpretation of international humanitarian laws and frameworks related to targeted killings and civilian killings because of it.
Armed attacks by U.S. UAVs
MQ-1 Predator UAVs armed with Hellfire missiles have been used by the U.S. as platforms for hitting ground targets. Armed Predators were first used in late 2001 from bases in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, mostly aimed at assassinating high-profile individuals (terrorist leaders, etc.) inside Afghanistan. Since then, there have been many reported cases of such attacks taking place in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The advantage of using an unmanned vehicle rather than a manned aircraft in such cases is to avoid a diplomatic embarrassment should the aircraft be shot down and the pilots captured, since the bombings take place in countries deemed friendly and without the official permission of those countries.
A Predator based in a neighboring Arab country was used to kill suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Yemen on 3 November 2002. This marked the first use of an armed Predator as an attack aircraft outside of a theater of war such as Afghanistan.
The U.S. has claimed that the Predator strikes killed at least nine senior al-Qaeda leaders and dozens of lower-ranking operatives, depleting its operational tier in what U.S. officials described as the most serious disruption of al-Qaeda since 2001. It was claimed that the Predator strikes took such a toll on al-Qaeda that militants began turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust. A senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said: "They have started hunting down people who they think are responsible [for security breaches]. People are showing up dead, or disappearing."
By October 2009, the CIA claimed to have killed more than half of the 20 most wanted al-Qaeda terrorist suspects in targeted killings using UAVs. By May 2010, counter-terrorism officials said that UAV strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas had killed more than 500 militants since 2008 and no more than 30 (5%) nearby civilians – mainly family members who lived and traveled with the targets. UAVs linger overhead after a strike, in some cases for hours, to enable the CIA to count the bodies and attempt to determine which, if any, are civilians. A Pakistani intelligence officer gave a higher estimate of civilian casualties, saying 20% of total deaths were civilians or non-combatants.
In February 2013, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham stated that 4,756 people have been killed by U.S. UAVs.
CIA officials became concerned in 2008, that targets in Pakistan were being tipped off to pending U.S. UAV strikes by Pakistani intelligence, when the U.S. requested Pakistani permission prior to launching UAV-based attacks. The Bush administration therefore decided in August 2008 to abandon the practice of obtaining Pakistani government permission before launching missiles from UAVs, and in the next six months the CIA carried out at least 38 Predator strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared with 10 in 2006 and 2007 combined.
One issue with using armed drones to attack human targets is the size of the bombs being used and the relative lack of discrimination of the 100 lb (45 kg) Hellfire, which was designed to eliminate tanks and attack bunkers. Smaller weapons such as Raytheon'sGriffin and Pyros are being developed as a less indiscriminate alternative, and development is underway on the still smaller US Navy-developed Spike missile. The payload-limited Predator A can also be armed with six Griffin missiles, as opposed to only two of the much-heavier Hellfires.
Public opinion in the US (military use)
Main article: Public opinion about US drone attacks
In 2013, a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll found that 48% of American voters believe it is "illegal for the U.S. government to target its own citizens living abroad with drone attacks." In the same poll, however, a majority of voters approved of the U.S. military and the CIA using UAVs to carry out attacks abroad “on people and other targets deemed a threat to the U.S.”.
There are a number of critics of the use of UAVs to track and kill terrorists and militants. A major criticism of drone strikes is that they result in excessive collateral damage. However, others maintain that drones "allow for a much closer review and much more selective targeting process than do other instruments of warfare" and are subject to Congressional oversight. Like any military technology, armed UAVs will kill people, combatants and innocents alike, thus "the main turning point concerns the question of whether we should go to war at all."
In 2012, the USAF trained more UAV pilots than ordinary jet fighter pilots for the first time. Unlike other UAVs, the Predator was armed with Hellfire missiles so that it can terminate the target that it locates. This was done after Predators sighted Osama Bin Laden multiple times but could not do anything about it other than send back images. In addition, the Predator is capable of orchestrating attacks by pointing lasers at the targets. This is important, as it puts a robot in a position to set off an attack. Their overall success is apparent because from June 2005 to June 2006 alone, Predators carried out 2,073 missions and participated in 242 separate raids.
In contrast to the Predator, which is remotely piloted via satellites, the Global Hawk operates virtually autonomously. The user merely hits the button for ‘take off’ and for ‘land’, while the UAV gets directions via GPS and reports back with a live feed. Global Hawks have the capability to fly from San Francisco and map out the entire state of Maine before having to return. In addition, some UAVs have become so small that they can be launched from one's hand and maneuvered through the street. These UAVs, known as Ravens, are especially useful in urban areas, such as Iraq, in order to discover insurgents and potential ambushes the next block up. UAVs are especially useful because they can fly for days at a time. Insurgents in the open for more than a few minutes at a time fear UAVs locating them.
In the U.S., thousands of civilian UAV operators work for contractors, piloting and maintaining UAVs. Up to four UAVs and about 400 to 500 pilot and ground support personnel are required for a single 24-hour-coverage combat air patrol (CAP). A 2011 study by the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine indicated that nearly 50% of spy UAV operators suffer from high stress. The president of a civilian UAV operators' union, the Association of Unmanned Operation (AUO), cited long working hours and decreasing wages as U.S. involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was reduced and as a result of the U.S. government's budget sequestration.
Given the increasing military use of cyber attacks against Microsoft software, the United States Armed Forces have moved towards Linux ground control software.
Scale of use
An August 2013, Brookings Institution study reported that in the U.S. Air Force there were approximately 1,300 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) pilots, 8.5 percent of total Air Force pilots, up from 3.3 percent in 2008. The study indicated that the U.S. military's combat air patrol (CAP) daily missions requirement is growing at a faster pace than RPA pilots can be trained, with an attrition rate during RPA flight screening being three times that of traditional pilots and a 13% lower promotion rate to Major than other officers.
As of January 2014, the U.S. military operates a large number of unmanned aerial systems: 7,362 RQ-11 Ravens; 990 AeroVironment Wasp IIIs; 1,137 AeroVironment RQ-20 Pumas; and 306 RQ-16 T-Hawk small UAS systems and 246 Predators and MQ-1C Gray Eagles; 126 MQ-9 Reapers; 491 RQ-7 Shadows; and 33 RQ-4 Global Hawk large systems.
As of mid-2014, the U.S. Air Force is training more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots combined.
Research and development
At the center of the American military's continued UAV research is the MQ-X, which builds upon the capabilities of the Reaper and Predator UAVs. As currently conceived, the MQ-X would be a stealthier and faster fighter-plane sized UAV capable of any number of missions: high-performance surveillance; attack options, including retractable cannons and bomb or missile payloads; and cargo capacity.
Development costs for American military UAVs, as with most military programs, have tended to overrun their initial estimates. This is mostly due to changes in requirements during development and a failure to leverage UAV development programs over multiple armed services. This has caused United States Navy UAV programs to increase in cost from 0% to 5%, while United States Air Force UAV programs have increased from 60% to 284%.
The USAF said in 2012 that it will focus on development of UAVs capable of collaborative networking with manned aircraft in "buddy attacks" or flying as standalone systems.
The U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) planned in 2014 to award grants and contracts up to $5.5 million each, for its Fast Lightweight Autonomy Program (FLAP) program, which specifies UAVs capable of traveling 60 feet per second (18 m/s) to include autonomy algorithms for quickly and autonomously navigating indoor obstacles and learning from past travels.
List of U.S. military UAVs
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|Look up UAV in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
A UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly known as a drone.
UAV may also refer to:
- UAV Cypher or Sikorsky Cypher, a type of unmanned aerial vehicle developed by Sikorsky Aircraft
- UAV Outback Challenge or UAV Challenge - Outback Rescue, an annual competition for the development of unmanned aerial vehicles
- UAV Sci-Tech UAV, Chinese UCAVs developed by Beijing UAV Sci-Tech Co., Ltd
- Unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), also known as a combat drone or simply a drone
- Vrabac Mini UAV, a mini drone intended for day/night reconnaissance and surveillance at shorter distances, as well as for target finding and designating
Topics referred to by the same term
UAV ground control station
For satellite ground stations, see Ground station.
UAV ground control station (GCS) is a land- or sea-based control centre that provides the facilities for human control of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or "drones"). It may also refer to a system for controlling rockets within or above the atmosphere, but this is typically described as a Mission Control Centre.
GCS hardware refers to the complete set of ground-based hardware systems used to control the UAV. This typically includes the Human-Machine Interface, computer, telemetry, video capture card and aerials for the control, video and data links to the UAV.
Fixed Installation and Vehicle Mounted GCS
Larger military UAVs such as the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator feature what resembles a "virtual cockpit". The pilot or sensor operator sits in front of a number of screens showing the view from the UAV, a map screen and aircraft instrumentation. Control is through a conventional aircraft-style joystick and throttle, possibly with Hands on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) functionality.
In addition, the GCS consists of satellite or long-range communication links that are mounted on the roof or on a separate vehicle, container or building.
Smaller UAVs can be operated with a traditional "twin-stick" style transmitter, as used for radio controlled model aircraft. Extending this setup with a laptop or tablet computer, data and video telemetry, and aerials, creates what is effectively a Ground Control Station.
A number of suppliers offer a combined system that consists of what looks like a modified transmitter combined with what is usually a touch screen. An internal computer running the GCS software sits behind the screen, along with the video and data links.
Larger GCS units are also available that typically fit inside flight cases. As with the smaller units, they feature an internal computer running the GCS software, along with video and data links. Large single or dual screens are also fitted that can be high-brightness or treated with an anti-glare coating to increase visibility in bright sunlight. They can either be placed on the ground, on a portable table, or feature integrated folding legs.
Some portable GCS units are in the HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) layout. This layout includes a 3-Axis Joystick to control yaw, pitch and roll of the UAV. A slide or t-bar fader can increase or decrease the airspeed of the UAV.
GCS software is typically run on a ground-based computer that is used for planning and flying a mission. It provides a map screen where the user can define waypoints for the flight, and see the progress of the mission. It also serves as a “virtual cockpit”, showing many of the same instruments as in manned aircraft.
Regulation of UAVs in the United States
This article needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(May 2017)
For broader coverage of this topic, see Regulation of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has adopted the name unmanned aircraft (UA) to describe aircraft systems without a flight crew on board. More common names include UAV, drone, remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and remotely operated aircraft (ROA). These "limited-size" (as defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) unmanned aircraft flown in the USA's National Airspace System, flown solely for recreation and sport purposes, such as models, are generally flown under the voluntary safety standards of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the United States' national aeromodeling organization. To operate a UA for non-recreational purposes in the United States, according to the FAA users must obtain a Certificate of Authorization (COA) to operate in national airspace. In December 2015 the FAA announced that all UAVs weighing more than 250 grams flown for any purpose must be registered with the FAA.
In December 2019, the FAA proposed a rule requiring all unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to be equipped with a device to identify them citing “All UAS operating in the airspace of the United States, with very few exceptions, would be subject to the requirements of this rule". On December 28, 2020, the FAA announced the system, Remote Identification or Remote ID, would be required in 30 months.
Types of federal regulation
Multiple categories of rules have been proposed or enacted in the United States by the Federal Aviation Administration. The restrictions imposed on the operation of UAS differ for each category of rule.
As of December 2020[update], the FAA requires all commercial UAS operators to obtain a remote pilot license under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. To qualify for a Part 107 UAS license, an applicant must be over 16 years of age, demonstrate proficiency in the English language, have the physical and mental capacity to operate a UAS safely, pass a written exam of aeronautical knowledge, and complete a Transportation Security Administrationbackground security screening.
Recreational UAS operators are not required to obtain a Part 107 license. However, unlicensed recreational UAS operation is only lawfully permitted if the UAS is operated for purely non-commercial purposes, and if the operator complies with restrictions on recreational UAS operation, including prohibitions on operating their UAS beyond the operator's visual line of sight. New FAA rules finalized in December 2020 permit operations of UAS over people or at night without applying for a special exemption, but only licensed Part 107 operators may take advantage of these new rules.
Commercial (Part 107) operators are required to register their UAS with the FAA, regardless of its weight. In addition, recreational operators are also required to register their UAS if its total weight (including any payload) meets or exceeds 0.55 pounds. UAS registration costs $5. Recreational UAS operators may obtain a single user registration number and register multiple UAS for a single $5 fee, while commercial operators must individually register and pay a $5 registration fee per each UAS. Recreational UAS weighing less than 0.55 pounds do not need to be registered.
UAS operators must clearly mark their registration number on the outside of their UAS in an easily readable manner. This requirement enables authorities to trace and locate the operator of a recovered UAS, if the UAS was involved in an accident or unlawful activity.
Main article: Remote ID
In December 2020, the FAA finalized a Remote ID rule, which will take effect in stages over the next 30 months. The rule requires UAS to broadcast information in real-time about operation of the UAS, including the location of the UAS and its operator, and a unique identification number that law enforcement officials may be able to cross-reference to identify the UAS operator. For those UAS which lack the ability to broadcast Remote ID information, the rule requires operators to retrofit the UAS with a "broadcast module" capable of broadcasting identifying information.
Exceptions to the Remote ID requirement include UAS weighing under 0.55 pounds, and UAS being operated within specially designated flying zones or "FAA-Recognized Identification Areas" where Remote ID will not be required. As of December 2020[update], no such "Identification Areas" exist; the FAA will begin taking applications for the creation of such areas starting in 2022.
2012 and Prior
Well before any FAA concerns ever existed for UAS aircraft, at the very start of the 21st century the Federal Communications Commission had already started "registration" of many of its radio services' licensees in the United States, by assigning each licensee a unique ten-digit numerical "FRN" (FCC Registration Number) registration code as shown on their paper licenses, as part of the then-new "CORES" (COmmission REgistration System) organization system for FCC licensee records - this was also done for all United States-licensed amateur radio operators, who have regulation 97.215 in the FCC Part 97 Amateur Radio Service rules that allows use of any Ham-legal frequency solely for recreational operation of model aircraft and surface models, with up to one watt of RF output. No requirement of any sort has yet been issued by the FCC for the "FRN" number's display on Ham-licensed, amateur radio frequency-operated radio control model aircraft, nor on any other variety of remotely-guided model craft operated on Ham bands, such as surface-operated models of any sort; with the FCC reserving any use or display of such "FRN" numbers for future needs, beyond their existing assignment to radio service licensees and display on their licenses.
On September 16, 2005, the FAA released memorandum AFS-400 UAS Policy 05-01 as a guideline to the usage of UAS in the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS). On February 6, 2007, the FAA released a policy document indicating that UAVs are recognized by the definition of aircraft. Soon after on February 13, a Policy Statement concerning the operation of drones was issued and clarified the distinction between a UAV and a model aircraft.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 set a deadline of September 30, 2015, for the agency to establish regulations to allow the use of commercial drones. While such regulations were pending, the agency claimed it was illegal to operate commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, but approved non-commercial flights under 400 feet if they followed Advisory Circular 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards, published in 1981. However, the FAA's attempt to fine a commercial drone operator for a 2011 flight were thrown out on March 6, 2014 by NTSB judge Patrick Geraghty, who found that the FAA had not followed the proper rulemaking procedures and therefore had no UAV regulations. The FAA appealed the judgment of the NTSB administrative law judge.Texas EquuSearch, which performed volunteer search and rescue operations, was also challenging FAA rules in 2014.
2013 - 2015
As of August 2013, commercial unmanned aerial system (UAS) licenses were granted on a case-by-case basis, subject to approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Previously, COAs (certificate of authorization) required a public entity as a sponsor. For example, when BP needed to observe oil spills, they operated the Aeryon Scout UAVs under a COA granted to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. COAs have been granted for both land and shipborne operations. In 2014, the FAA approved at least ten applications from specific companies for commercial use of drones, including movie-makers and surveyors.
In December 2013, the FAA announced six operators it was authorizing to conduct research on drone technology, to inform its pending regulations and future developments. These were the University of Alaska (including locations in Hawaii and Oregon), the state of Nevada, Griffiss International Airport in New York State, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, and Virginia Tech.
In addition to FAA certification, the regulation of usage of UA systems by government authorities in the United States for law enforcement purposes is determined at a state level. As of September 2014, 20 U.S. states had enacted legislation addressing the use of UA systems and the handling of data collected by them. Nearly all enacted laws require a probable cause warrant to be issued before the use of a UA system for surveillance purposes is authorized.
In May 2014, a group of major news media companies filed an amicus brief in a case before the U.S.'s National Transportation Safety Board, asserting that the FAA's "overly broad" administrative limitations against private UAS operations cause an "impermissible chilling effect on the First Amendment newsgathering rights of journalists", the brief being filed three months before a scheduled rollout of FAA commercial operator regulations. On November 18, 2014, however, regarding the FAA v. Pirker case, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) upheld FAA's authority over enforcement of the operation of UAS or model aircraft by affirming that since "unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) meet the legal definition of 'aircraft'," the operation of which are thus subject to civil penalties.
2015 - Present
On January 12, 2015, CNN announced that their News Network has been cleared by the FAA, in the first program of its kind to test camera-equipped drones for news gathering and reporting purposes. CNN has partnered with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to collect data for the program. The FAA said it will analyze the information to develop rules about using drones for news gathering.
On February 15, 2015, the FAA announced that up to seven thousand businesses could get approval to fly drones two years from now under proposed rules by the FAA. On Sunday the White House also issued a presidential directive that mandates federal agencies for the first time to disclose publicly where they are flying drones and what they do with the data they acquire using aerial surveillance.
In December 2015 the FAA announced that all UAVs weighing more than 250 grams flown for any purpose must be registered with the FAA. The FAA's Interim Rule can be accessed here. This regulation went into effect on December 21, 2015 and requires that hobby type UAV's weighing 0.25–25 kg (0.55-55 lb) needed to be registered no later than February 19, 2016. The FAA's registration portal for drones can be accessed here.
Notable requirements of the FAA UAV registration process include:
- Effective December 21, 2015, if the UAV has never been operated in U.S. airspace (i.e. its first flight outside), eligible owners must register their UAV's prior to flight. If the UAV previously operated in U.S. airspace, it must be registered.
- In order to use the registration portal, you must be 13 years of age or older. If the owner is less than 13 years old, then a parent or other responsible person must do the FAA registration.
- Each registrant will receive a certificate of aircraft registration and a registration number and all UAV's must be marked with the assigned FAA issued registration code (a ten-character alphanumeric ID code) for the registrant.
- The FAA registration requires a $5 fee and is valid for 3 years, but can be renewed for an additional 3 years at the $5 rate.
The new FAA rule provides that a single registration applies to as many UAVs as an owner/operator owns or operates. Failure to register can result in civil penalties of up to $27,500 and criminal penalties which could include fines up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.
To show problems with the FAA process, in August, 2015 an attorney was able to get FAA approval for a commercial drone that was actually a battery powered paper airplane toy. Its controllable range is 120 feet (37 meters) and maximum flight time is 10 minutes. It is too underpowered to carry a camera.
In February 2016, the FAA established a committee to develop guidelines for regulating safe UAV flight over populated areas, to the end of allowing commercial drone operation, in response to requests from companies involved in commercial drone development such as Amazon and Google. In addition, during the summer of the same year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST), Department of Transportation (DOT) released Rule Part 107, finalizing the regulation regarding the use of commercial UAS.
On May 19, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in ruling on Taylor v. Huerta  reversed the Dec. 2015 UAV registration rule, commenting that "the FAA may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft." Specifically, the FAA's Registration Rule for model aircraft (a/k/a drones) violates Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, and the FAA's Registration Rule to the extent it applied to model aircraft was vacated. The FAA began the process of refunding the registration fees.
On December 12, 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law the immediately-effective National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, reinstating the FAA's drone registration requirement. 
On May 9, 2018, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the selection of local governments from 10 states to participate in the UAS Integration Pilot Program. The City of San Diego is one of the participant selected from California with a primary project goal focusing on commercial delivery and border protection.
On September 20, 2018, State Farm Insurance, in partnership with the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and FAA Integration Pilot Program, became the first in the United States to fly a UAV 'Beyond-Visual-Line-Of-Sight' (BVLOS) and over people under an FAA Part 107 Waiver. The flight was made at the Virginia Tech's Kentland Farms outside the Blacksburg VA campus with an SenseFly eBee vehicle, Pilot-In-Command was Christian Kang, a State Farm Weather Catastrophe Claims Services employee (Part 107 & 61 pilot).
By November 27, 2019, the United States' organization for homebuilt full-scale aircraft, the Experimental Aircraft Association, having reached a "memorandum of understanding" nine years earlier with the US' national aeromodeling organization, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, expressed concern over the unprecedented degree of FAA regulation of recreational model aircraft, stating that ""We see model aviation as an important pathway to manned flight," adding that "Our goal in this risk assessment process is to represent the safety concerns of our members while allowing the highest degree of freedom for legacy model aircraft, which have flown alongside us in the airspace for decades."
On December 28, 2020, the FAA announced the system, Remote Identification or Remote ID, would be effective 60 days from the expected publication date in the Federal Register in January 2021. Operators of UAS have thirty months to comply with the regulation and manufacturers have 18 months after the publication date to comply. A lawsuit against the remote ID rule was filed by RaceDayQuads.com, a website whose business consists of the retail of goods related to drone racing. The suit, known as RaceDayQuads v. FAA, was stated to be filed on March 17, 2021, and is claimed to be primarily crowdfunded via GoFundMe.
Under 49 U.S. Code § 40103, "The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States" and U.S. citizens have "a public right of transit through the navigable airspace." The FAA is invested with the authority to control traffic in navigable airspace and create operational and safety regulations on aircraft in navigable airspace. According to the FAA, "[a] navigable airspace free from inconsistent state and local restrictions is essential to the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system.": 2 With respect to navigable airspace and the aircraft operating in that airspace, federal regulations have preempted the field and the ability of state and local laws to regulate use of UAVs is limited.: 2–3
Examples of state and local laws that, according to the FAA, conflict with the FAA's federal legal authority and require consultation with the FAA before being enacted:: 3
- Operational UAS restrictions on flight altitude, flight paths; operational bans; any regulation of the navigable airspace. For example–a city ordinance banning anyone from operating UAS within the city limits, within the air space of the city, or within certain distances of landmarks.
- Mandating equipment or training for UAS related to aviation safety such as geo-fencing would likely be preempted. Courts have found that state regulation pertaining to mandatory training and equipment requirements related to aviation safety is not consistent with the federal regulatory framework. Med-Trans Corp. v. Benton, 581 F. Supp. 2d 721, 740 (E.D.N.C. 2008); Air Evac EMS, Inc. v. Robinson, 486 F. Supp. 2d 713, 722 (M.D. Tenn. 2007).
Examples of state and local laws that, according to the FAA, are generally permissible under the state's police powers:: 3
- Requirement for police to obtain a warrant prior to using a UAS for surveillance.
- Specifying that UAS may not be used for voyeurism.
- Prohibitions on using UAS for hunting or fishing, or to interfere with or harass an individual who is hunting or fishing.
- Prohibitions on attaching firearms or similar weapons to UAS.
In 2014, the California State Senate passed rules imposing strict regulations on how law enforcement and other government agencies can use drones. The legislation would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before using an unmanned aircraft, or drone, except in emergencies. In 2015, Virginia passed legislation that a drone may only be used in law enforcement if a warrant has been issued; excluding emergencies. New Jersey's drone legislation passed in 2015 states that not only are you required to provide a warrant for drone use in law enforcement, but the information collected must be disposed within two weeks. Other states that have drone regulation are Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.
The first landmark court case on state and municipal drone regulation was Singer v. City of Newton, No. 17-10071-WGY (D. Mass. Sept. 21, 2017). Dr. Michael Singer, a physician, technology advocate, and FAA-certificated drone operator, sued the City of Newton, Massachusetts challenging four provisions in the city's recently enacted drone ordinance. These provisions required drone operators to register with the Newton city clerk; prohibited drone flights over the city without prior permission of all landowners below; and prohibited beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations. Singer, who represented himself in court, argued that these provisions were preempted by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (as recodified). U.S. District Judge William G. Young agreed, striking down the challenged parts of the ordinance due to conflict preemption. The City of Newton appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, but later withdrew its appeal. Singer v. Newton is widely regarded as the first court case to examine the intersection of federal and state powers over drone operations.
Some locations, such as Charlottesville, Virginia, Iowa City, Iowa and St. Bonifacius, Minnesota have passed legislation that limits use of UAVs. In New York state, the city of Syracuse considered declaring the city a "Warrantless Surveillance Drone Free Zone" but put the legislation on hold after city counsellors became aware of a memorandum of understanding between the Justice Department and the Federal Aviation Administration.
In 2016, the Connecticut House of Representatives considered legislation to impose restrictions on drone weaponization. The legislation came after a man named Austin Haughwout, then an engineering student at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), posted a video on YouTube showing a drone carrying a semi-automatic handgun, which he had assembled, and which was seen to fire the gun several times.
In 2013, a UAV flying over Manhattan collided with several buildings and crashed onto the pavement. It was reported that a man had been arrested days after the incident and that he had been charged with reckless endangerment. He was identified because he was seen in the video recorded by the drone. The Federal Aviation Administration fined the man $2,200. The FAA said that his operation of the UAV was "flying in restricted airspace without getting permission from controllers and flying in a "careless or reckless manner" and "endangered the safety of the national airspace system". This was the first FAA attempt to penalise a non-commercial flight.
In 2015, a drone operated by a civilian flew into the White House property. As a result, the drone manufacturer, DJI, issued a statement saying that they will now require that all of their drones would contain built-in geofencing limits.
"Movie makers, real-estate agents, criminal-defense lawyers and farmers are among at least 68 groups with a newfound political interest in drones according to Center for Responsive Politics data compiled by Bloomberg". At least 28 universities and local government agencies as well as Amazon hope to use drones civilly someday. Limited commercial operations for drones weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) is a proposal due to be decided upon by the end of the year.
In June 2014, the Motion Picture Association of America stated its support of an FAA exemption for the use of small drones in limited low risk scenarios in film and television productions.
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General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
Unmanned reconnaissance and strike aircraft system
The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (sometimes called Predator B) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight operations developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) primarily for the United States Air Force (USAF). The MQ-9 and other UAVs are referred to as Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft (RPV/RPA) by the USAF to indicate their human ground controllers.
The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitudesurveillance. In 2006, the then–Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force General T. Michael Moseley said: "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper."
The MQ-9 is a larger, heavier, and more capable aircraft than the earlier General Atomics MQ-1 Predator; it can be controlled by the same ground systems used to control MQ-1s. The Reaper has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine (compared to the Predator's 115 hp (86 kW) piston engine). The greater power allows the Reaper to carry 15 times more ordnance payload and cruise at about three times the speed of the MQ-1. The aircraft is monitored and controlled by aircrew in the Ground Control Station (GCS), including weapons employment.
In 2008, the New York Air National Guard174th Attack Wing began the transition from F-16 piloted fighters to MQ-9A Reapers, becoming the first fighter unit to convert entirely to unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) use. In March 2011, the U.S. Air Force was training more pilots for advanced unmanned aerial vehicles than for any other single weapons system. The Reaper is also used by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the militaries of several other countries.
The USAF operated 195 MQ-9 Reapers as of September 2016, and plans to keep the MQ-9 in service into the 2030s.
The General Atomics "Predator B-001", a proof-of-concept aircraft, first flew on 2 February 2001. Abraham Karem is the designer of the Predator. The B-001 was powered by an AlliedSignalGarrett TPE331-10T turboprop engine with 950 shaft horsepower (710 kW). It had an airframe that was based on the standard Predator airframe, except with an enlarged fuselage and wings lengthened from 48 feet (15 m) to 66 feet (20 m). The B-001 had a speed of 220 knots (410 km/h; 250 mph) and could carry a payload of 750 pounds (340 kg) to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,000 m) with an endurance of 30 hours.
The company refined the design, taking it in two separate directions. The first was a jet-powered version; "Predator B-002" was fitted with a Williams FJ44-2A turbofan engine with 10.2 kilonewtons (2,300 lbf; 1,040 kgf) thrust. It had payload capacity of 475 pounds (215 kg), a ceiling of 60,000 feet (18 km) and endurance of 12 hours. The USAF ordered two airframes for evaluation, delivered in 2007. The first two airframes delivered with prototypes B-001 and B-002 (now in the USAF museum at Wright-Patterson AFB). B-002 was originally equipped with the FJ-44 engine but it was removed and a TPE-331-10T was installed so that the USAF could take delivery of two aircraft in the same configuration.
The second direction the design took was the "Predator B-003", referred to by GA as the "Altair", which has a new airframe with an 84-foot (26 m) wingspan and a takeoff weight of approximately 7,000 pounds (3,200 kg). Like the Predator B-001, it is powered by a TPE-331-10YGD turboprop. This variant has a payload capacity of 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg), a maximum ceiling of 52,000 feet (16 km), and an endurance of 36 hours.
In October 2001, the USAF signed a contract for an initial pair of Predator Bs (001 and 002) for evaluation. Designated YMQ-9s due to their prototype role, they were delivered in 2002. The USAF referred to it as "Predator B" until it was renamed "Reaper". The USAF aimed for the Predator B to provide an improved "deadly persistence" capability, flying over a combat area night-and-day waiting for a target to present itself, complementing piloted attack aircraft, typically used to drop larger quantities of ordnance on a target, while a cheaper RPV can operate almost continuously using ground controllers working in shifts, but carrying less ordnance.
MQ-9 Reaper crews (Pilots, Sensor Operators and Mission Intelligence Coordinators), stationed at bases such as Creech Air Force Base, near Las Vegas, Nevada, can hunt for targets and observe terrain using multiple sensors, including a thermographic camera. One claim was that the on-board camera is able to read a license plate from two miles (3.2 km) away. An operator's command takes 1.2 seconds to reach the drone via a satellite link.
The MQ-9 is fitted with six stores pylons. The inner stores pylons can carry a maximum of 1,500 pounds (680 kg) each and allow carriage of external fuel tanks. The mid-wing stores pylons can carry a maximum of 600 pounds (270 kg) each, while the outer stores pylons can carry a maximum of 200 pounds (91 kg) each. An MQ-9 with two 1,000 pounds (450 kg) external fuel tanks and 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of munitions has an endurance of 42 hours. The Reaper has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions.
The MQ-9 carries a variety of weapons including the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles, the AIM-9 Sidewinder, and the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). Tests are underway to allow for the addition of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile.
By October 2007, the USAF owned nine Reapers, and by December 2010 had 57 with plans to buy another 272, for a total of 329 Reapers. Critics have stated that the USAF's insistence on qualified pilots flying RPVs is a bottleneck to expanding deployment. USAF Major General William Rew stated on 5 August 2008, "For the way we fly them right now"—fully integrated into air operations and often flying missions alongside manned aircraft—"we want pilots to fly them." This reportedly has exacerbated losses of USAF aircraft in comparison with US Army operations. In March 2011, U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that, while manned aircraft are needed, the USAF must recognize "the enormous strategic and cultural implications of the vast expansion in remotely piloted vehicles..." and stated that as the service buys manned fighters and bombers, it must give equal weight to unmanned drones and "the service's important role in the cyber and space domains."
In 2013, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) sought the ability to pack up an MQ-9 in less than eight hours, fly it anywhere in the world aboard a C-17 Globemaster III, and then have it ready to fly in another eight hours to support special operations teams at places with no infrastructure. MQ-1 and MQ-9 drones must fly aboard cargo aircraft to travel long distances as they lack the refueling technology or speed to travel themselves; the C-17 is large enough to carry the aircraft and support systems and can land on short runways. Pilots traveling with the Reaper will use the ground control station to launch and land the aircraft, while most of the flying will be done by US-based pilots.
Testbed and upgrades
In November 2012, Raytheon completed ground verification tests for the ADM-160 MALD and MALD-J for integration onto the Reaper for an unmanned suppression of enemy air defenses capability. On 12 April 2013, a company-owned MQ-9 equipped with a jamming pod and digital receiver/exciter successfully demonstrated its electronic warfare capability at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, performing its mission in coordination with over 20 participating aircraft. A second electronic warfare test, fitted with the Northrop Grumman Pandora EW System, was conducted on 22 October 2013 with other unmanned aircraft and Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowlers, showing effectiveness in a multi-node approach against a more capable IADS.
In 2011, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) reported its interest in using the Reaper and its MTS-B sensor to provide firing quality data for early interception of ballistic missile launches. The MDA is exploring concepts to use the UAV's EO/IR sensor to achieve "launch-on-remote" capabilities with missile interceptors before detection by Aegis radars. At least two aircraft would be needed to triangulate a target to provide high-fidelity data. The MTS-B includes short and mid-wave IR bands, optimal for tracking launch and rocket burn. In 2013, the MDA terminated plans to build a follow-on to the two orbiting Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellites due to near-term costs, opting to continue testing the Reaper for ballistic missile target discrimination. The MDA planned to test the improved MTS-C sensor, which adds a long-wave IR detector optimized for tracking cold bodies such as missiles and warheads after booster burnout, or plumes and exhaust. The goal is to use data from multiple high-flying UAVs to provide an off-board cue to launch an SM-3 missile from an Aegis ship. Two Reapers demonstrated their ability to track ballistic missiles using their MTS-B EO/IR turret during a test in late June 2016.
In June 2015, a study by the USAF's Scientific Advisory Board identified several improvements for operating the Reaper in contested airspace; adding readily available sensors, weapons, and threat detection and countermeasures could increase situational awareness and enable riskier deployments. Suggestions included a radar warning receiver (RWR) to know when it's being targeted, air-to-air and miniature air-to-ground weapons, manned-unmanned teaming, multi-UAV control, automatic take-offs and landings, and precision navigation and timing systems to fly in GPS-denied areas. Another idea was redesigned ground control stations with user-friendly video game-like controllers and touchscreen maps to access data without overwhelming operators.
In October 2015, Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR Robert Otto suggested redesigning the MQ-9's GCS to be operated by one person for most missions rather than two (to fly and work the sensors) to simplify operations and reduce manpower requirements by hundreds of sensor operators. Introducing an auto-land capability would also reduce the Reaper's manpower requirements to staff launch and recovery teams. Automatic take-off and landing capabilities are already present in the RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and are planned to be provided to the MQ-9 in 2017. The Air Force requires the manually loaded Reaper to operate from a runway at least 5,000 ft (1.5 km) long, but automated take-offs and landings would enable it to operate from a 3,000 ft (0.91 km) runway.
In April 2017, an MQ-9 Block 5 flew with a RaytheonALR-69A RWR in its payload pod to demonstrate the aircraft's ability to conduct missions in the proximity of threat radars and air defenses, the first time this capability was demonstrated on a remotely piloted aircraft. In September 2020, a Reaper was flown carrying two Hellfire missiles on each of the stations previously reserved for 500 lb bombs or fuel tanks. A software upgrade doubled the aircraft's capacity to eight missiles.
Pentagon wants to upgrade MQ-9 Reaper with directed-energy weapons such as low-powered laser and high-powered microwaves beams. A high-field optical module to act on human nervous system is also under consideration.
A typical MQ-9 system consists of multiple aircraft, ground control station, communications equipment, maintenance spares, and personnel. A military flight crew includes a pilot, sensor operator, and Mission Intelligence Coordinator. The aircraft is powered by a 950 horsepower (710 kW) turboprop, with a maximum speed of about 260 knots (480 km/h; 300 mph) and a cruising speed of 150–170 knots (170–200 mph; 280–310 km/h). With a 66 ft (20 m) wingspan, and a maximum payload of 3,800 lb (1,700 kg), the MQ-9 can be armed with a variety of weaponry, including Hellfire missiles and 500 lb (230 kg) laser-guided bomb units. Endurance is 30 hours when conducting ISR missions, which decreases to 23 hours if it is carrying a full weapons load. The Reaper has a range of 1,000 nmi (1,150 mi; 1,850 km)[dubious – discuss] and an operational altitude of 50,000 ft (15,000 m), which makes it especially useful for long-term loitering operations, both for surveillance and support of ground troops.
The Predator and Reaper were designed for military operations and not intended to operate among crowded airline traffic. The aircraft typically lack systems capable of complying with FAA See-And-Avoid regulations. On 18 May 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a certificate of authorization allowing MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAVs to fly in U.S. civil airspace to search for survivors of disasters. In 2005, requests were made for MQ-9s to be used in search and rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina but, as there was no FAA authorization in place at the time, it was not used.
An MQ-9 can adopt various mission kits and combinations of weapons and sensors payloads to meet combat requirements. Its Raytheon AN/AAS-52 multi-spectral targeting sensor suite includes a color/monochrome daylight TV, infrared, and image-intensified TV with laser rangefinder/laser designator to designate targets for laser guided munitions. The aircraft is also equipped with the Lynx Multi-mode Radar that contains synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that can operate in both spotlight and strip modes, and ground moving target indication (GMTI) with Dismount Moving Target Indicator (DMTI) and Maritime Wide-Area Search (MWAS) capabilities. The Reaper was used as a test bed for Gorgon Stare, a wide-area surveillance sensor system. Increment 1 of the system was first fielded in March 2011 on the Reaper and could cover an area of 16 km2 (6.2 sq mi); increment 2, incorporating ARGUS-IS and expanding the coverage area to 100 km2 (39 sq mi), achieved initial operating capability (IOC) in early 2014. The system has 368 cameras capable of capturing five million pixels each to create an image of about 1.8 billion pixels; video is collected at 12 frames per second, producing several terabytes of data per minute.
In January 2012, General Atomics released a new trailing arm design for the Reaper's main landing gear; benefits include an over 30 percent increase in landing weight capacity, a 12 percent increase in gross takeoff weight (from 10,500 pounds (4,800 kg) to 11,700 pounds (5,300 kg)), a maintenance-free shock absorber (eliminating the need for nitrogen pressurization), a fully rejected takeoff brake system, and provisions for automatic takeoff and landing capability and Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) field upgrades. In April 2012, General Atomics announced possible upgrades to USAF Reapers, including two extra 100 US gallons (380 l) fuel pods under the wings to increase endurance to 37 hours. The wingspan can also be increased to 88 feet (27 m), increasing endurance to 42 hours. The USAF has bought 38 Reaper Extended Range (ER) versions, carrying external fuel tanks (which don't affect weapon capacity), the heavy-weight landing gear, a four-bladed propeller, a new fuel management system which ensures fuel and thermal balance among external tank, wing, and fuselage fuel sources, and an alcohol-water injection (AWI) system to shorten required runway takeoff length; these features increase endurance from 27 to 33–35 hours, while the company is still pitching the lengthened wing option. The Reaper ER first flew operationally in August 2015. The aircraft also has the sensor ball replaced with a high-definition camera, better communications so ground controllers can see the higher quality video, software to enable automatic detection of threats and tracking of 12 moving targets at once, and the ability to "super ripple" fire missiles within 0.32 seconds of each other.
On 25 February 2016, General Atomics announced a successful test flight of the new Predator-B/ER version. This new version has had the wingspan extended to 79 feet, increasing its endurance to 40 hours. Other improvements include "short-field takeoff and landing performance and spoilers on the wings which enable precision automatic landings. The wings also have provisions for leading-edge de-ice and integrated low- and high-band RF antennas."
U.S. Air Force
On 1 May 2007, the USAF's 432d Wing was activated to operate MQ-9 Reaper as well as MQ-1 Predator UAVs at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. The pilots first conducted combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer of 2007. On 28 October 2007, the Air Force Times reported an MQ-9 had achieved its first "kill", successfully firing a Hellfire missile against Afghanistan insurgents in the Deh Rawood region of the mountainous Oruzgan province. By 6 March 2008, according to USAF Lieutenant General Gary North, the Reaper had attacked 16 targets in Afghanistan using 500 lb (230 kg) bombs and Hellfire missiles.
On 17 July 2008, the USAF began flying Reaper missions within Iraq from Balad Air Base. It was reported on 11 August 2008 that the 174th Fighter Wing would consist entirely of Reapers. By March 2009 the USAF had 28 operational Reapers. Beginning in September 2009, Reapers were deployed by the Africa Command to the Seychelles islands for use in Indian Oceananti-piracy patrols.
On 13 September 2009, positive control of an MQ-9 was lost during a combat mission over Afghanistan, after which the control-less drone started flying towards the Afghan border with Tajikistan. An F-15E Strike Eagle fired an AIM-9 missile at the drone, successfully destroying its engine. Before the drone impacted the ground, contact was reestablished with the drone, and it was flown into a mountain to destroy it. It was the first US drone to be destroyed intentionally by allied forces.
By July 2010, thirty-eight Predators and Reapers had been lost during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, another nine were lost in training missions in the U.S. In 2010, the USAF conducted over 33,000 close air support missions, a more-than-20 percent increase compared with 2009. By March 2011, the USAF had 48 Predator and Reaper combat air patrols flying in Iraq and Afghanistan compared with 18 in 2007.
As of March 2011, the USAF was training more pilots for advanced unmanned aerial vehicles than for any other single weapons system. In 2012, the Reaper, Predator and Global Hawk were described as "... the most accident-prone aircraft in the Air Force fleet."
In October 2011, the USAF began operating Reapers out of Arba Minch Airport in Ethiopia for surveillance-only operations in Somalia. In 2012, both Reapers and Predators were deployed in Benghazi, Libya after the attack that killed the US ambassador in that city. In February 2013, the U.S. stationed a Predator at Niamey to provide intelligence for French forces during Operation Serval in Mali; it was later replaced by two MQ-9 Reapers. In April 2013, one of these Reapers crashed on a surveillance flight due to mechanical failure.
On 22 October 2013, the USAF's fleets of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs reached 2,000,000 flight hours. The RPA program began in the mid-1990s, taking 16 years for them to reach 1 million flight hours; the 2 million hour mark was reached just two and a half years later.
The high demand for UAVs has caused Air Combat Command to increase pilot output from 188 in 2015 to 300 in 2017 at Holloman.
On 13 November 2015, the Pentagon reported that an MQ-9 had killed ISIL member Mohammed Emwazi, popularly known as "Jihadi John", who was responsible for executing several Western prisoners.
In 2015, a record number (20) of Air Force drones crashed. Working with engineers from General Atomics, investigators identified three parts of the starter-generator that were susceptible to breakdowns, but could not determine why they were failing. Col. William S. Leister informed Pentagon officials that investigators from the Air Force, General Atomics and Skurka had investigated the problem for more than a year. The team, he said, had identified "numerous manufacturing quality issues" yet had been unable to determine the exact cause of the failures.
On 2 October 2017, U.S. Central Command stated that an MQ-9 had been shot down by Houthi air defense systems over Sanaa in western Yemen the previous day. The aircraft took off from Chabelley Airport in Djibouti, and was armed.
On 18 September 2018, the Air Force announced that an MQ-9 armed with an air-to-air missile successfully shot down a smaller target drone in November 2017. The drone was operated by the 432nd Wing. While the destruction of a target drone is a routine air force exercise, this event was the first instance of a Reaper destroying a small, maneuvering aerial target.
On 6 June 2019, Houthis shot down a US MQ-9 Reaper over Yemen. According to United States Central Command, it was shot down by an SA-6 surface-to-air missile that was enabled with Iranian assistance. On 21 August 2019, another un-armed MQ-9 was shot down by Houthis over Dhamar, Yemen, by a Yemini made Fater-1 missile, an improved SA-6.
On 23 November 2019, a US MQ-9 Reaper was shot down by a Pantsir system operated by the Libyan National Army or Wagner Group over Tripoli, Libya. According to journalist David Cenciotti, the drone was lost after being jammed by Russian Wagner militias working in support of the Libyan National Army.
On 3 January 2020, a US MQ-9 missile strike at Baghdad International Airport killed Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces.
On 18 August 2020, US Department of Defense announced that two US MQ-9 Reapers had crashed in a mid-air collision over Syria. However, claims from local media said that at least one drone might have been shot down by Syrian Opposition rebel fighters or Turkish forces.
In April 2021, U.S. and Polish militaries have agreed on a long-negotiated plan to increase the American presence in Poland with 2 units of MQ-9 Reapers deployed by the U.S. Air Force.
NASA's Predator B, Altair variant
NASA's Predator B, Ikhana variant
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) initially expressed interest in a production version of the B-002 turbofan-powered variant, but instead leased an unarmed Reaper variant, which carries the GA-ASI company name "Altair". Altair is one of the first three "Predator-B" airframes. The other two airframes, known as "Predator-B 001" and "Predator-B 002", had a maximum gross weight of 7,500 pounds (3,400 kg). Altair differs from these models in that it has an 86-foot (26 m) long wingspan (20-foot (6.1 m) greater than early and current MQ-9s). The Altair has enhanced avionics systems to better enable flights in FAA-controlled civil airspace and demonstrate "over-the-horizon" command and control capability from a ground station. These aircraft are used by NASA's Earth Science Enterprise as part of the NASA ERAST Program to perform on-location science missions.
In November 2006, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center obtained an MQ-9 (and mobile ground control station), named Ikhana, for the Suborbital Science Program within the Science Mission Directorate. In 2007, Ikhana was used to survey the Southern California wildfires, supporting firefighter deployments based upon the highest need. The California Office of Emergency Services had requested NASA support for the Esperanza Fire, and the General Atomics Altair was launched less than 24 hours later on a 16-hour mission to map the fire's perimeter. The fire mapping research is a joint project with NASA and the US Forest Service.
The NASA Ikhana was used to survey the descent of the OrionExploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) module on its first test mission 5 December 2014. The aircraft loitered at 27,000 ft (8,200 m), used its IR camera to detect the capsule, then switched to the optical camera to observe its descent through parachute deployment and landing in the Pacific Ocean.
U.S. Homeland Security
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operated nine MQ-9s in August 2012. Two were based in North Dakota at Grand Forks Air Force Base, four were based in Arizona, at Fort Huachuca and one was based at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. These aircraft were equipped with GA-ASI's Lynx synthetic aperture radar and Raytheon's MTS-B electro-optical infrared sensors. CBP also had two maritime MQ-9s called Guardians, based at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. The Guardians were equipped with the SeaVue marine search radar; their electro-optical infrared sensor was optimized for maritime operations. The CBP operates one MQ-9 Guardian jointly with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) out of land-based stations in Florida and Texas.
The United States Department of Homeland Security initially ordered one Predator B for border protection duty, referred to as MQ-9 CBP-101. It began operations 4 October 2005 and crashed in the Arizona desert on 25 April 2006. The US's NTSB determined that the crash's most likely cause was pilot error by the ground-based pilot, inadvertently shutting down the UAV's engine by failing to follow the checklist. During its operational period, the aircraft flew 959 hours on patrol and played a role in 2,309 arrests. It also contributed to the seizure of four vehicles and 8,267 pounds (3,750 kg) of marijuana.
A second Predator B, called "CBP-104" (initially referred to as "CBP-102"), was delivered in September 2006 and commenced limited border protection operations on 18 October 2006. The president's FY2006 emergency supplemental budget request added $45 million for the program and the FY2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill added an additional $20 million. In October 2006, GA-ASI announced a $33.9 million contract to supply two more Predator B systems by the fall of 2007. On 16 February 2009, the program was further expanded to include patrols of the Canada–US border.
On 14 October 2013, an MQ-9 began patrolling the Manitoba portion of the U.S.-Canada border. The UAV is based at Grand Forks Air Force Base and will watch the 400 km (250 mi)-long border. The drone will not carry weapons and needs permission to enter Canadian airspace. U.S. authorities fear that drug smugglers, migrants, and terrorists may exploit the long border. The use of the unmanned surveillance aircraft is an enhancement of the partnership between U.S. and Canadian agencies.
In January 2014, Customs and Border Protection grounded its UAVs temporarily after an unmanned aircraft was ditched off the coast of California by the operator due to a mechanical failure on 27 January 2014.
On May 29, 2020, CBP flew an unarmed Predator B drone above Minneapolis to watch protesters. The agency said it was at the request of federal law enforcement in Minneapolis.
In September 2006, the General Atomics Mariner demonstrator aircraft was operated by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) in an exercise designed to evaluate the aircraft's ability to aid in efforts to stem illegal fishing, drug running and illegal immigration. The Mariner operated from Royal Australian Air Force bases Edinburgh, South Australia and Learmonth, Western Australia in conjunction with a Royal Australian NavyArmidale class patrol boat, the Joint Offshore Protection Command, and the Pilbara Regiment.
In February 2015, it was announced that six RAAF personnel have been sent to Holloman AFB, New Mexico and Creech AFB, Nevada to undergo training.
In August 2015, it was revealed that Australians had begun flying MQ-9s over Syria, the first time Australia expanded operations past Iraq during the Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Five RAAF personnel were embedded with the USAF 432d Operations Group, which flies armed Reapers, performing operational duties with the unit as MQ-9 system pilots and sensor operators.
In November 2018, the Defence Minister Christoper Pyne announced that Australia would purchase 12 to 16 MQ-9s. In November 2019, Australia announced the selection of the MQ-9B for its armed Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) RPAS requirement under Project Air 7003.
In April 2021, the State Department approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Australia of 12 MQ-9B Reapers and related equipment for an estimated cost of $1.651 billion.
In January 2018, the Belgian Ministry of Defence reportedly decided on the MQ-9 to fulfill its medium-altitude long-range UAV requirement. Ministry officials stated that a request for information had been sent to potential suppliers of the system, and that they had received responses from all of them. In October 2018, Belgium confirmed its selection of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian variant, adding that it would be considered a "reconnaissance" asset, suggesting it will not be used to carry weapons. In March 2019, the US Department of State approved the sale of four MQ-9B SkyGuardian UAVs to Belgium for $600 million, pending approval by US Congress.
The Predator UAV "Guardian" has been used by the Dominican Republic, under U.S. supervision and funding, against drug trafficking from mid-2012.
On 31 May 2013, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed the order of two MQ-9 Reapers, to be delivered by the end of 2013. It was chosen to replace the EADS Harfang and was picked over the Israeli Heron TP. On 27 June 2013, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to France for 16 unarmed MQ-9s, associated equipment, ground control hardware, and support, worth up to $1.5 billion total. On 26 August 2013, France and the US Department of Defense concluded the deal for 16 Reapers and 8 ground control stations, with French operators beginning training.
On 24 September 2013, France's first pair of MQ-9 pilots conducted a two-hour training sortie at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Both French pilots had prior UAV experience and went through a five-week ground-based training course and 5 hours on a flight simulator before the first flight. Two additional crews were also receiving instruction at the facility. General Atomics is due to deliver two Reapers and one ground control station to the French Air Force by the end of 2013. On 26 November 2013, France declared that six pilots in three teams were operational, following 100 hours on flight simulators and 4 flights. French MQ-9s were first put into action in January 2014 at Niamey Air Base in Niger for border reconnaissance in the Sahel desert.
On 16 January 2014, France's first MQ-9 flight occurred from Niger. The first two Reapers to enter French service are designated Block 1 and use U.S. equipment; further orders are to be modified with European payloads such as sensors and datalinks. On 31 March 2014, French Air Force Reapers accumulated 500 flight hours in support of Operation Serval. In July 2014, a French MQ-9 helped to locate the wreckage of Air Algérie Flight 5017, which had crashed in Mali.
Germany made a request to purchase five Reapers and four ground control stations, plus related support material and training. The request, being made through the Foreign Military Sales process, was presented to Congress through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency on 1 August 2008 and is valued at US$205 million. However, Germany did not go through with this procurement for the time being and decided to lease the IAI Heron offered by IAI and Rheinmetall instead, initially for the duration of one year, representing a stop-gap measure before a long-term decision on a MALE-system is being made.
In June 2017, the US State Department approved the sale of 22 drones to India, costing around $2–3 billion. As of February 2020, a deal to purchase 30 drones with 10 drones for each of the three Indian armed services, was expected to be signed by the end of the fiscal year. In November 2020, the Indian Navy began operating two leased MQ-9B SeaGuardians. The lease agreement is valid for one year. The drones are deployed at the Naval Air Station Rajali located in Tamil Nadu.
On 1 August 2008, Italy submitted a FMS request through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency for four aircraft, four ground stations and five years of maintenance support, all valued at US$330 million. Italy ordered two more aircraft in November 2009. On 30 May 2012, it was reported that the U.S. planned to sell kits to arm Italy's six Reapers with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. However Gen. Alberto Rosso has expressed frustration at American delays in integrating additional weapons onto the platform and suggested that Italy may have to seek UAS alternatives. Italian Reapers were used:
- in Libya, since 10 August 2011, as part of its contribution to NATO's Operation Unified Protector (flew about 300 hours)
- in Kosovo, since 13 March 2012 inbound NATO KFOR "Joint Enterprise" operation
- on "Mare Nostrum" mission (Mediterranean sea, migrants search and rescue operation) by October 2013
- into Afghanistan theater by January 2014 (to replace Predator A+).
On 3 November 2015, the U.S. approved a deal covering weapons integration onto Italy's Reaper aircraft, which would make it the first country outside the UK to weaponize the drone. The potential for increased contribution to NATO coalition operations improved operational flexibility, and enhanced survivability for Italian forces prompted the request.
On 20 November 2019, an Italian Air Force MQ-9 was shot down by a Pantsir system operated by the Libyan National Army or Wagner Group, near the city of Tarhuna, Libya. The Libyan National Army claimed to have shot down the drone that, based on the initial reports, was thought to be a Turkish operated drone, supporting the opposed Government of National Accord. The Italian Defense confirmed the loss stating the cause of the crash is under investigation.
On 19 June 2013, General Atomics and Fokker Technologies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to offer the MQ-9 Reaper to the Dutch government for their need of a MALE UAV. The MOU recognizes that Fokker will assist in maintenance and support of the aircraft in the Netherlands if a deal goes through.
On 21 November 2013, the Dutch Minister of Defense announced that the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has selected the MQ-9 Reaper Block-V as its new MALE UAV. The new MALE UAV 306 squadron will be based at Leeuwarden Air Base. In July 2018 the Dutch government signed a Letter of Acceptance for the acquisition through the Foreign Military Sales process. The Dutch MQ-9 is to have the Synthetic Aperture Radar with the Maritime Search option and also a special ground search radar with more range and electronic sensors to detect ground radar and signals. The RNLAF plans to buy four ground stations (two at Homebase, 2 at forward operating base) and four MQ-9s block-V. The aircraft are to reach full operational status in 2020. No weapons are planned for the Reapers as of 2013, but weapons can be equipped.
On 6 August 2015, the Spanish Ministry of Defence announced it would buy four Reaper surveillance aircraft with two ground control stations for €25 million ($27 million) in 2016, costing €171 million over five years. General Atomics will partner with Spanish Company SENER to deliver unarmed versions to Spain, making it the fifth European country to order the Reaper. In addition to selecting the Reaper, Spain is interested in the joint German-French-Italian project to develop a European MALE UAV. The Defense Department cleared the purchase on 6 October 2015. Spain selected the Reaper over the Heron TP to perform homeland security, counter-insurgency, and counter-terrorism operations. The Spanish government agreed to purchase the system on 30 October. The Reaper was selected over the Heron TP mainly for commonality with NATO allies who also use the airframe. Although Spain's immediate priority is for surveillance, they will eventually try to weaponize the platform. The first two aircraft and first GCS is planned for delivery in 2017, with the third aircraft in 2018 when they achieve IOC, and the last in 2020 achieving full operational capability (FOC).
On 27 September 2006, the U.S. Congress was notified by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency that the United Kingdom was seeking to purchase a pair of MQ-9A Reapers. They were initially operated by No. 39 Squadron RAF from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, later moving to RAF Waddington. A third MQ-9A was in the process of being purchased by the RAF in 2007. On 9 November 2007, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced that its Reapers had begun operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban. In April 2008, following the crash of one of the UK's two Reapers, British special forces were sent to recover sensitive material from the wreckage before it was blown up to prevent the enemy from obtaining it. By May 2011, five Reapers were in operation, with a further five on order.
The second RAF squadron to operate five Reapers is XIII Sqn, which was formally activated and commissioned on 26 October 2012. No. 39 Squadron personnel were planned to gradually return to the UK in 2013 and in time both squadrons would each operate five Reapers from RAF Waddington. In April 2013, XIII squadron started full operations from RAF Waddington, exercising control over a complement of 10 Reapers, at that point all based in Afghanistan. Five Reapers can provide 36 hours of combined surveillance coverage in Afghanistan with individual sorties lasting up to 16 hours; a further five vehicles increases this to 72 hours. In total, RAF Reapers flew 71,000 flight hours in Afghanistan, and dropped 510 guided weapons (compared to 497 for Harrier and Tornado). In April 2013, it was revealed that the MOD was studying the adoption of MBDA's Brimstone missile upon the MQ-9. In December 2013, several successful test firings of the Brimstone missile from a Reaper at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake to support integration onto RAF Reapers. Nine missiles were fired at an altitude of 20,000 ft at distances of 7 to 12 km (4.3 to 7.5 mi) from the targets; all nine scored direct hits against static, accelerating, weaving, and fast remotely controlled targets.
In 2014, the MOD decided that its Reaper fleet will be brought into the RAF's core fleet once operations over Afghanistan cease. Procurement of the MQ-9A was via an urgent operational capability requirement and funded from the Treasury reserve, but induction into the core fleet will have them funded from the MoD's budget. The Reapers were retained for contingent purposes, mainly to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), until its replacement enters service around 2018. On 4 October 2015 David Cameron announced that the RAF would replace its existing fleet of 10 Reapers with more than 20 of the "latest generation of RPAS", named as "Protector", In April 2016 document, the MoD revealed that Protector will be a version of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, formally known as Certifiable Predator B (CPB), made to fly in European airspace, to be acquired from 2018 to 2030. In July 2018, it was announced that this aircraft will be designated Protector RG Mk 1 in RAF service, and is to be delivered in 2023.
On 16 October 2014, the MOD announced the deployment of armed Reapers in Operation Shader, the UK's contribution to the United States-led military intervention against Islamic State, the first occasion the UK had used its Reapers outside Afghanistan. The number of aircraft out of the RAF's 10-plane fleet was not disclosed, but it was expected that at least two were sent; more were dispatched as the UK drew down from Afghanistan. RAF Reapers' primary purpose is to provide surveillance support and situational awareness to coalition forces. On 10 November 2014, the MoD reported that an RAF Reaper had conducted its first airstrike against Islamic State forces, firing a Hellfire missile at militants placing an IED near Bayji. RAF Reapers based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus conducted one surveillance mission over Syria in November 2014, four in December 2014, and eight in January 2015. On 7 September 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that two Islamic State fighters from Britain had been killed in an intelligence-led strike by an RAF Reaper near Raqqa, Syria, the first armed use of RAF assets in Syria during the civil war. By January 2016, RAF Reapers had flown 1,000 sorties in support of Operation Shader. Compared to operations in Afghanistan, where RAF Reapers fired 16 Hellfire missiles in 2008, 93 in 2013, and 94 in 2014, in operations against ISIL, 258 Hellfires were fired in 2015.
United Arab Emirates
On 10 November 2020, the US State Department approved the sale of up to 18 MQ-9Bs to the UAE pending approval by Congress.
On 3 November 2020, the US State Department approved the sale of 4 MQ-9B, along with Control Stations and Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigations Systems (EGI) with Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) to Taiwan.
On 15 October 2020, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems conducted validation flights of the SeaGuardian UAV for the Japan Coast Guard (JCG). The test flight was conducted at a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) air base in Hachinohe. Both the JCG and JMSDF have expressed interest in acquiring SeaGuardian UAVs in order to conduct more ocean surveillance.
A navalized Reaper, named Mariner, was proposed for the U.S. Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program. It had an increased fuel capacity for an endurance of up to 49 hours. Variations included one for aircraft carrier operations with folding wings for storage, shortened, reinforced landing gear, an arresting hook, cut-down or eliminated ventral flight surfaces and six stores pylons for a total load of 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms). The Northrop Grumman RQ-4N was selected as the BAMS winner.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operates two maritime variants of the MQ-9, known as Guardians. The U.S. Coast Guard evaluated the Guardian, including performing joint operations with CBP. CBP and the Coast Guard operate one MQ-9 Guardian jointly out of land-based stations in Florida and Texas.
General Atomics continued with the Naval Reaper concept, turning it into the SeaGuardian. It has an endurance of more than 18 hours and can mount an eight-hour patrol at a radius of 1,200 nmi (1,400 mi; 2,200 km). A key part of its mission set is the LeonardoSeaspray 7500E V2 AESA radar mounted as a centerline pod with inverse synthetic aperture radar that can spot surface targets including ships, submarine periscopes, and people during search and rescue operations.
General Atomics studied testing a sonobuoy launch capability from the Guardian in 2016 to demonstrate its ability to carry them, control them, and send information back to the ground station over a SATCOM link. In November 2020, a company-owned Reaper carried out a trial releasing sonobuoys, then processing information from them to track a training target. This led to the creation of an anti-submarine warfare package for the SeaGuardian, the first self-contained ASW package for a UAS. The package comprises podded sonobuoy dispenser systems (SDS), using a pneumatic launch system to launch 10 A-size or 20 G-size buoys from each pod, and a sonobuoy management and control system (SMCS); the aircraft can carry up to four pods.
MQ-9 Block 5
On 24 May 2012, General Atomics conducted the successful first flight of its upgraded MQ-9 Block 1-plus Reaper. The Block 1-plus version was designed for increased electrical power, secure communications, automatic landing, increased gross takeoff weight (GTOW), weapons growth, and streamlined payload integration capabilities. A new high-capacity starter generator offers increased electrical power capacity to provide growth capacity; a backup generator is also present and is sufficient for all flight-critical functions, improving the electrical power system's reliability via three independent power sources. New communications capabilities, including dual ARC-210 VHF/UHF radios with wingtip antennas, allow for simultaneous communications between multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground parties, secure data links, and an increased data transmission capacity. The new trailing arm main landing gear allows the carriage of heavier payloads or additional fuel. Development and testing were completed, and Milestone C was achieved in September 2012. Follow-on aircraft will be redesignated MQ-9 Block 5. On 15 October 2013, the USAF awarded General Atomics a $377.4 million contract for 24 MQ-9 Block 5 Reapers. The MQ-9 Block 5 flew its first combat mission on 23 June 2017.
International demand for a MALE RPAS capable of being certified for operation within civilian airspace drove General Atomics to develop a version of the platform known by GA-ASI as MQ-9B SkyGuardian, previously called Certifiable Predator B, to make it compliant with European flight regulations to get more sales in European countries. In order to fly over national airspace, the aircraft meets NATO STANAG 4671 airworthiness requirements with lightning protection, different composite materials, and sense and avoid technology; performance changes include a 79 ft (24 m) wingspan that has winglets and enough fuel for a 40-hour endurance at 50,000 ft (15,000 m). Features include High Definition EO/IR Full Motion Video sensor, De/Anti-Icing System, TCAS, and Automatic Take-Off & Land. The system also includes a completely redesigned & modernized integrated ground control station with 4 crew stations.
On 28 November 2019, the Australian Government announced the selection of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) MQ-9B Sky Guardian as its preferred version of the Predator B for the RAAF's Project AIR 7003 MALE armed remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) requirement.
The SeaGuardian is a proposed version of SkyGuardian but also fitted with Multimode 360 Maritime Surface Search Radar and Automatic identification system (AIS).
In April 2016, the United Kingdom announced that it intended to place an order for the Certifiable Predator B as part of its Protector MALE UAV program for the Royal Air Force. According to the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Royal Air Force will operate at least 20 Protector systems by 2025, replacing all of the ten MQ-9A Reapers.
On 15 July 2018, a GA-ASI Company-owned MQ-9B SkyGuardian was flown from the United States to RAF Fairford in the UK for the first transatlantic flight of a MALE UAV. It was displayed at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) air show, where the aircraft was given markings of No. 31 Squadron RAF. This followed an announcement by the RAF's Chief of Air Staff that 31 Sqn would be the first RAF Squadron to operate a similar version of the MQ-9B aircraft, to be known as the Protector RG Mark 1 (RG1), starting in 2023. In July 2020, the Ministry of Defence signed a contract for three Protector UAVs with an option on an additional thirteen aircraft.
Protector will be able to carry up to 18 Brimstone 2 missiles or Paveway IV bombs.
- United Kingdom
10 ordered with 9 in active service. 1 more ordered in March 2021.
- United States
- United States Air Force
- Air Combat Command
- United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa
- Air Force Special Operations Command
- Air National Guard
- 107th Attack Wing (Niagara Falls Air Force Base, New York)
- 174th Attack Wing (Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, New York)
- 111th Attack Wing (Horsham Air Guard Station, Montgomery, Pennsylvania)
- 118th Wing (118 WG) (Berry Field, Nashville, Tennessee)
- 132nd Wing (Des Moines Air National Guard Base, Des Moines, Iowa)
- 147th Attack Wing (147 ATKW) (Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, Houston, Texas)
- 163d Attack Wing (March AFB, California)
- 178th Wing (Springfield-Beckley Air National Guard Station, Springfield, Ohio)
- 188th Wing (188 WG) (Ebbing Air National Guard Station, Fort Smith, Arkansas)
- Air Force Reserve Command
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Data from USAF Fact Sheet, Globalsecurity.org
- Crew: 0 onboard, 2 in ground station
- Length: 36 ft 1 in (11 m)
- Wingspan: 65 ft 7 in (20 m)
- Height: 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m)
- Empty weight: 4,901 lb (2,223 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 10,494 lb (4,760 kg)
- Fuel capacity: 4,000 lb (1,800 kg)
- Payload: 3,800 lb (1,700 kg)
- Internal: 800 lb (360 kg)
- External: 3,000 lb (1,400 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop, 900 hp (671 kW) with Digital Electronic Engine Control (DEEC)
- Maximum speed: 300 mph (482 km/h, 260 kn)
- Cruise speed: 194 mph (313 km/h, 169 kn) 
- Range: 1,200 mi (1,900 km, 1,000 nmi)
- Endurance: 14 hours fully loaded
- Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,420 m)
- Operational altitude: 25,000 ft (7.5 km)
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
- ^ abcThe Air Force's Newest MQ-9 Reaper Drone Is Now Hunting ISISArchived 7 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Defense tech, 30 June 2017
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- ^ abcd"'Reaper' moniker given to MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle". US Air Force. 14 September 2006. Archived from the original on 14 September 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- ^ abc"MQ-9 REAPER fact sheet". US Air Force. 18 August 2010. Archived from the original on 26 August 2013. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
- ^Charles J. Hanley. "Unmanned Reapers bound for Iraq, Afghanistan". Air Force Times. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- ^USAF's Small UAS roadmap calls for swarming ‘kamikaze’ dronesArchived 6 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine – Flightglobal.com, 4 May 2016
- ^Whittle, Richard. "The Man Who Invented the Predator". Air & Space Magazine. Air & Space Magazine. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
- ^ ab"Predator B UAS". General Atomics. Archived from the original on 11 October 2008. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
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- ^Note: endurance figures vary greatly from source to source. The current figure being publicized by the USAF is 14 hours.
- ^ abcdeGreg Goebel (1 March 2010). "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles". Archived from the original on 20 November 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- ^ ab"Reaper: A New Way to Wage War". Time: 40. 1 June 2009.
- ^"Air Force's hunter-killer UAV now flying in Afghanistan". US Air Force. 10 November 2007. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- ^Spencer Ackerman (14 December 2010). "Air Force Is Through With Predator Drones". Wired. Archived from the original on 5 January 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- ^Shaun Waterman (5 August 2008). "Bigger, Deadlier Reaper Drone Deployed in Iraq". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on 28 June 2009. Retrieved 5 August 2008.
- ^"USAF slammed for pranging Predators on manual". The Register. 29 April 2009. Archived from the original on 3 February 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- ^SOCOM Wants to Deploy MQ-9 Drones to Remote AreasArchived 15 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine – Military.com, 16 September 2013
- ^Raytheon and General Atomics team-up to integrate MALD onto ReaperArchived 18 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine – Flightglobal.com, 13 February 2013
- ^Predator B Successfully Demonstrates Electronic Attack Capability in USMC ExerciseArchived 1 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine – Deagel.com, 13 August 2013
- ^GA-ASI & Northrop Grumman Showcase Add’l Unmanned EA Attack Capabilities in 2nd USMC ExerciseArchived 3 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine – sUASNews.com, 22 January 2014
- ^US Missile Defense Agency Testing Reaper as Missile HunterArchived 15 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine – UASvision.com, 24 August 2011
- ^MDA Eyes UAVs For Discrimination, Boost-Phase KillArchived 15 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine – Aviationweek.com, 16 August 2013
- ^USAF Reapers demonstrate missile tracking capabilityArchived 17 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine – Flightglobal.com, 16 August 2016
- ^The Air Force Wants To Make Its Drones Smarter and DeadlierArchived 6 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine – Defenseone.com, 3 August 2015
- ^USAF science panel recommends MQ-9, RQ-4 improvement planArchived 8 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine – Flightglobal.com, 5 August 2015
- ^USAF intel chief proposes single-operator MQ-9 cockpitArchived 29 October 2015 at the Wayback Machine – Flightglobal.com, 28 October 2015
- ^USAF to automate MQ-9 takeoffs and landingsArchived 6 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine – Flightglobal.com, 4 May 2016
- ^Radar warning receiver flies for the first time in Predator droneArchived 7 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine – UPI.com, 11 April 2017
- ^MQ-9 Reaper Drone Flies with Double Hellfire Missiles in New Test. Military.com. 30 September 2020.
- ^MQ-9 Software Upgrade Doubles Hellfire Capacity. Air Force Magazine. 30 September 2020.
- ^Double the firepower: MQ-9 tests flying with eight Hellfire missile. Air Force Times. 1 October 2020.
- ^GDC (14 July 2021). "Pentagon Wants To Equip MQ-9 Reaper With Directed-Energy Weapons". Global Defense Corp. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
- ^Collinson, R.P.G. (2011). Introduction to Avionic Systems. Springer. p. 495. ISBN .
- ^Ready for Retirement, Can Predator Find New Home? – Defensenews.com, 13 May 2014
- ^Elmendorf, Douglas W. (2010). Alternatives for Modernizing U.S. Fighter Forces. DIANE Publishing. p. 38. ISBN .
- ^"Sense and Avoid: The United States Air Force Perspective"(PDF). UVS-Info. Archived from the original(PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- ^SSgt Amy Robinson (11 August 2006). "FAA Authorizes Predators to seek survivors". Air Combat Command Public Affairs. Archived from the original on 29 June 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2006.
- ^GA-ASI Radar Shines During USN Spearhead IIA ExerciseArchived 15 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine – sUASNews.com, 28 August 2014
- ^Marc V. Schanz (November 2011). "The New Normal for RPAs". Airforce-magazine.com. 94 (11): 53. Archived from the original on 20 November 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
- ^Sierra Nevada fields ARGUS-IS upgrade to Gorgon Stare podArchived 14 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine – Flightglobal.com, 2 July 2014
- ^GA-ASI Introduces New Design on Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper Landing GearArchived 4 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine – GA-ASI, 9 January 2012
- ^Extended Endurance ReaperArchived 11 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Wired.com
- ^Reaper upgradesArchived 23 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine – General Atomics
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- ^Reaper ER Extends RPA Missions to +33 HoursArchived 20 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine – Defense-Update.com, 16 September 2015
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- ^"Predator B Extended Range Conducts First Flight With Long Wings". General Atomics & Affiliated Companies. Archived from the original on 18 April 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
- ^Ryan Whitney (3 May 2007). "Air Force stands up first unmanned aircraft systems wing". 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. Archived from the original on 8 May 2007.
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- ^Thom Shanker (29 July 2008). "Air Force Plans Altered Role in Iraq". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
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- ^Tony Reichhardt (22 September 2009). "Robot airplane goes AWOL, gets shot down". The Daily Planet. Archived from the original on 16 November 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
- ^Zucchino, David (6 July 2010). "War zone drone crashes add up". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 11 July 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
|Role||Unmanned aerial vehicle for civilian use|
|Manufacturer||Primoco UAV SE, Czech Republic|
|First flight||31 July 2015|
|Number built||40 as of 2016|
Primoco UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for civilian use, designed and manufactured in the Czech Republic. Its first flight took place in July 2015 and the UAV Model One 100 started full production in January 2016.
Its primary usage is in civilian air operations, supporting applications ranging from border protection and security to pipeline monitoring and remote infrastructure management. The aircraft has a fixed wing construction, providing extended range and reliability in adverse weather conditions.
Operation and Control
The UAVis operated from a Ground Control Station with a pilot and a flight operator. It can be manually controlled or run in fully automatic mode, where pre-programmed waypoints allow automatic takeoff, flight and landing. The aircraft also has additional safety modes which allow it to return to base or land in a safe area if communications are lost or faults occur.
The UAV has an S mode transponder which allow its flight path to be integrated into normal civilian airspace without special authorization. The equipment and aircraft can be transported in a light van..
Communications and Monitoring
Secure communications via radio or satellite Inmarsat connections are built in for continuous transmission of video and sensor readings to a ground station. Onboard sensors include Infra-Red cameras, Optical cameras, Radar/Lidar and others to the operator’s requirements.
- Crew: 0
- Wingspan: 4.9 m
- Length: 3.7 m
- Maximum take-off weight: 100/150 kg
- Single piston engine 20/50 hp
- Composite construction
- Cruise speed: 100 – 150 km/h
- Maximum Distance: 1,500 km
- Endurance: 10 hours
- Payload: 1 – 50 kg
- Take-off/Landing length: 300 m
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Unmanned aerial vehicle
"UAV" redirects here. For other uses, see UAV (disambiguation).
Aircraft without any human pilot or passengers on board
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without any human pilot, crew or passengers on board. UAVs are a component of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), which include additionally a ground-based controller and a system of communications with the UAV. The flight of UAVs may operate under remote control by a human operator, as remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA), or with various degrees of autonomy, such as autopilot assistance, up to fully autonomous aircraft that have no provision for human intervention.
UAVs were originally developed through the twentieth century for military missions too "dull, dirty or dangerous" for humans, and by the twenty-first they had become essential assets to most militaries. As control technologies improved and costs fell, their use expanded to many non-military applications. These include aerial photography, product deliveries, agriculture, policing and surveillance, infrastructure inspections, science, smuggling, and drone racing.
Many terms are used for aircraft which fly without any persons on board.
The term drone has been used from the early days of aviation, being applied to remotely-flown target aircraft used for practice firing of a battleship's guns, such as the 1920s Fairey Queen and 1930s de Havilland Queen Bee. Later examples included the Airspeed Queen Wasp and Miles Queen Martinet, before ultimate replacement by the GAF Jindivik. The term remains in common use.
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is defined as a "powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload". UAV is a term that is commonly applied to military use cases. However missiles with warheads are not considered UAVs because the vehicle itself is a munition.
The term unmanned aircraft system (UAS) was adopted by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2005 according to their Unmanned Aircraft System Roadmap 2005–2030. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the British Civil Aviation Authority adopted this term, also used in the European Union's Single-European-Sky (SES) Air-Traffic-Management (ATM) Research (SESAR Joint Undertaking) roadmap for 2020. This term emphasizes the importance of elements other than the aircraft. It includes elements such as ground control stations, data links and other support equipment. A similar term is an unmanned-aircraft vehicle system (UAVS), remotely piloted aerial vehicle (RPAV), remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS). Many similar terms are in use. "Unoccupied" and "uninhabited" are occasionally used as gender-neutral alternatives to "unmanned".
In addition to the software, autonomous drones also employ a host of advanced technologies that allow them to carry out their missions without human intervention, such as cloud computing, computer vision, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and thermal sensors.
Under new regulations which came into effect 1 June 2019, the term RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) has been adopted by the Canadian Government to mean "a set of configurable elements consisting of a remotely piloted aircraft, its control station, the command and control links and any other system elements required during flight operation".
The relation of UAVs to remote controlled model aircraft is unclear. UAVs may or may not include model aircraft. Some jurisdictions base their definition on size or weight; however, the US FAA defines any uncrewed flying craft as a UAV regardless of size. For recreational uses, a drone (as opposed to a UAV) is a model aircraft that has first-person video, autonomous capabilities, or both.
UAVs may be classified like any other aircraft, according to design configuration such as weight or engine type, maximum flight altitude, degree of operational autonomy, operational role, etc.
Based on the weight
Based on their weight, drones can be classified into five categories — nano (weighing up to 250 g), Micro air vehicles (MAV) (250 g - 2 kg), Miniature UAV or small (SUAV) (2-25 kg), medium (25-150 kg), and large (over 150 kg).
Based on the degree of autonomy
Drones could also be classified based on the degree of autonomy in their flight operations. ICAO classifies uncrewed aircraft as either remotely piloted aircraft or fully autonomous. Some UAVs offer intermediate degrees of autonomy. For example, a vehicle that is remotely piloted in most contexts but has an autonomous return-to-base operation. Some aircraft types may optionally fly manned or as UAVs, which may include manned aircraft transformed into uncrewed or Optionally Piloted UAVs (OPVs).
Based on the altitude
Based on the altitude, the following UAV classifications have been used[by whom?] at industry events such as ParcAberporth Unmanned Systems forum:
- Hand-held 2,000 ft (600 m) altitude, about 2 km range
- Close 5,000 ft (1,500 m) altitude, up to 10 km range
- NATO type 10,000 ft (3,000 m) altitude, up to 50 km range
- Tactical 18,000 ft (5,500 m) altitude, about 160 km range
- MALE (medium altitude, long endurance) up to 30,000 ft (9,000 m) and range over 200 km
- HALE (high altitude, long endurance) over 30,000 ft (9,100 m) and indefinite range
- Hypersonic high-speed, supersonic (Mach 1–5) or hypersonic (Mach 5+) 50,000 ft (15,200 m) or suborbital altitude, range over 200 km
- Orbital low earth orbit (Mach 25+)
- CIS Lunar Earth-Moon transfer
- Computer Assisted Carrier Guidance System (CACGS) for UAVs
Based on the composite criteria
An example of classification based on the composite criteria is U.S. Military's unmanned aerial systems (UAS) classification of UAVs based on weight, maximum altitude and speed of the UAV component.
Main article: History of unmanned aerial vehicles
The earliest recorded use of an unmanned aerial vehicle for warfighting occurred in July 1849, serving as a balloon carrier (the precursor to the aircraft carrier) in the first offensive use of air power in naval aviation. Austrian forces besieging Venice attempted to launch some 200 incendiary balloons at the besieged city. The balloons were launched mainly from land; however, some were also launched from the Austrian ship SMS Vulcano. At least one bomb fell in the city; however, due to the wind changing after launch, most of the balloons missed their target, and some drifted back over Austrian lines and the launching ship Vulcano.
Significant development of drones started in the early 1900s, and originally focused on providing practice targets for training military personnel. The earliest attempt at a powered UAV was A. M. Low's "Aerial Target" in 1916. Low confirmed that Geoffrey de Havilland’s monoplane was the one that flew under control on 21 March 1917 using his radio system. Other British unmanned developments followed during and after World War I leading to the fleet of over 400 de Havilland 82 Queen Bee aerial targets that went into service in 1935.
Nikola Tesla described a fleet of uncrewed aerial combat vehicles in 1915. These developments also inspired the construction of the Kettering Bug by Charles Kettering from Dayton, Ohio and the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane . Initially meant as an uncrewed plane that would carry an explosive payload to a predetermined target. The first scaled remote piloted vehicle was developed by film star and model-airplane enthusiast Reginald Denny in 1935.
World War II
Development continued during World War I, when the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company invented a pilotless aerial torpedo that would explode at a preset time. In 1940 Denny started the Radioplane Company and more models emerged during World War II – used both to train antiaircraft gunners and to fly attack missions. Nazi Germany produced and used various UAV aircraft during the war, like the Argus As 292 and the V-1 flying bomb with a jet engine. After World War II the development continued in vehicles such as the American JB-4 (using television/radio-command guidance), the Australian GAF Jindivik and Teledyne RyanFirebee I of 1951, while companies like Beechcraft offered their Model 1001 for the U.S. Navy in 1955. Nevertheless, they were little more than remote-controlled airplanes until the Vietnam War.
In 1959, the U.S. Air Force, concerned about losing pilots over hostile territory, began planning for the use of uncrewed aircraft. Planning intensified after the Soviet Unionshot down a U-2 in 1960. Within days, a highly classified UAV program started under the code name of "Red Wagon". The August 1964 clash in the Tonkin Gulf between naval units of the U.S. and North Vietnamese Navy initiated America's highly classified UAVs (Ryan Model 147, Ryan AQM-91 Firefly, Lockheed D-21) into their first combat missions of the Vietnam War. When the Chinese government showed photographs of downed U.S. UAVs via Wide World Photos, the official U.S. response was "no comment".
During the War of Attrition (1967–1970) the first tactical UAVs installed with reconnaissance cameras were first tested by the Israeli intelligence, successfully bringing photos from across the Suez canal. This was the first time that tactical UAVs that could be launched and landed on any short runway (unlike the heavier jet-based UAVs) were developed and tested in battle.
In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel used UAVs as decoys to spur opposing forces into wasting expensive anti-aircraft missiles. After the 1973 Yom Kippur war, a few key people from the team that developed this early UAV joined a small startup company that aimed to develop UAVs into a commercial product, eventually purchased by Tadiran and leading to the development of the first Israeli UAV.[pages needed]
In 1973, the U.S. military officially confirmed that they had been using UAVs in Southeast Asia (Vietnam). Over 5,000 U.S. airmen had been killed and over 1,000 more were missing or captured. The USAF 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing flew about 3,435 UAV missions during the war at a cost of about 554 UAVs lost to all causes. In the words of USAF GeneralGeorge S. Brown, Commander, Air Force Systems Command, in 1972, "The only reason we need (UAVs) is that we don't want to needlessly expend the man in the cockpit." Later that year, General John C. Meyer, Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command, stated, "we let the drone do the high-risk flying ... the loss rate is high, but we are willing to risk more of them ...they save lives!"
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Soviet-supplied surface-to-air missile batteries in Egypt and Syria caused heavy damage to Israeli fighter jets. As a result, Israel developed the IAI Scout as the first UAV with real-time surveillance. The images and radar decoys provided by these UAVs helped Israel to completely neutralize the Syrian air defenses at the start of the 1982 Lebanon War, resulting in no pilots downed. In Israel in 1987, UAVs were first used as proof-of-concept of super-agility, post-stall controlled flight in combat-flight simulations that involved tailless, stealth technology-based, three-dimensional thrust vectoring flight control, and jet-steering.
With the maturing and miniaturization of applicable technologies in the 1980s and 1990s, interest in UAVs grew within the higher echelons of the U.S. military. In the 1990s, the U.S. DoD gave a contract to AAI Corporation along with Israeli company Malat. The U.S. Navy bought the AAI Pioneer UAV that AAI and Malat developed jointly. Many of these UAVs saw service in the 1991 Gulf War. UAVs demonstrated the possibility of cheaper, more capable fighting machines, deployable without risk to aircrews. Initial generations primarily involved surveillance aircraft, but some carried armaments, such as the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, that launched AGM-114 Hellfireair-to-ground missiles.
CAPECON was a European Union project to develop UAVs, running from 1 May 2002 to 31 December 2005.
As of 2012, the USAF employed 7,494 UAVs – almost one in three USAF aircraft. The Central Intelligence Agencyalso operated UAVs. By 2013 at least 50 countries used UAVs. China, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Turkey, and others[which?] designed and built their own varieties. The use of drones has continued to increase. Due to their wide proliferation, no comprehensive list of UAV systems exists.
The development of smart technologies and improved electrical power systems led to a parallel increase in the use of drones for consumer and general aviation activities. As of 2021, quadcopter drones exemplify the widespread popularity of hobby radio-controlled aircraft and toys, however the use of UAVs in commercial and general aviation is limited by a lack of autonomy and new regulatory environments which require line-of-sight contact with the pilot.
In 2020 a Kargu 2 drone hunted down and attacked a human target in Libya, according to a report from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya, published in March 2021. This may have been the first time an autonomous killer robot armed with lethal weaponry attacked human beings.
Crewed and uncrewed aircraft of the same type generally have recognizably similar physical components. The main exceptions are the cockpit and environmental control system or life support systems. Some UAVs carry payloads (such as a camera) that weigh considerably less than an adult human, and as a result, can be considerably smaller. Though they carry heavy payloads, weaponized military UAVs are lighter than their crewed counterparts with comparable armaments.
Small civilian UAVs have no life-critical systems, and can thus be built out of lighter but less sturdy materials and shapes, and can use less robustly tested electronic control systems. For small UAVs, the quadcopter design has become popular, though this layout is rarely used for crewed aircraft. Miniaturization means that less-powerful propulsion technologies can be used that are not feasible for crewed aircraft, such as small electric motors and batteries.
Control systems for UAVs are often different than crewed craft. For remote human control, a camera and video link almost always replace the cockpit windows; radio-transmitted digital commands replace physical cockpit controls. Autopilot software is used on both crewed and uncrewed aircraft, with varying feature sets.
The primary difference from manned aeroplanes is the lack of need for a cockpit area and its windows. However some types are adapted from piloted examples, or are designed for optional piloted or unmanned operational modes. Air safety is also less of a critical requirement for unmanned aircraft, allowing the designer greater freedom to experiment. These two factors have led to a great variety of airframe and engine configurations in UAVs.
For conventional flight the flying wing and blended wing body offer light weight combined with low drag and stealth, and are popular configurations. Larger types which carry a variable payload are more likely to feature a distinct fuselage with a tail for stability, control and trim, although the wing configurations in use vary widely.
For vertical flight, the tailless quadcopter requires a relatively simple control system and is common for smaller UAVs. However the mechanism does not scale well to larger aircraft, which tend to use a conventional single rotor with collective and cyclic pitch control, along with a stabilising tail rotor.
Traditional internal combustion and jet engines remain in use for drones requiring long range. However for shorter-range missions electric power has almost entirely taken over. The distance record for a UAV (built from balsa wood and mylar skin) across the North Atlantic Ocean is held by a gasoline model airplane or UAV. Manard Hill "in 2003 when one of his creations flew 1,882 miles across the Atlantic Ocean on less than a gallon of fuel" holds this record.
Besides the traditional piston engine, the Wankel rotary engine is used by some drones. This type offers high power output for lower weight, with quieter and more vibration-free running. Claims have also been made for improved reliability and greater range.
Small drones mostly use lithium-polymer batteries (Li-Po), while some larger vehicles have adopted the a hydrogen fuel cell. The energy density of modern Li-Po batteries is far less than gasoline or hydrogen. However electric motors are cheaper, lighter and quieter. Complex multi-engine, multi-propeller installations are under development with the goal of improving aerodynamic and propulsive efficiency. For such complex power installations, Battery elimination circuitry (BEC) may be used to centralize power distribution and minimize heating, under the control of a microcontroller unit (MCU).
Ornithopters - wing propulsion
Flapping-wing ornithopters, imitating birds or insects, have been flown as microUAVs. Their inherent stealth recommends them for spy missions.
Sub-1g microUAVs inspired by flies, albeit using a power tether, have been able to "land" on vertical surfaces. Other projects mimic the flight of beetles and other insects.
Computer control systems
UAV computing capability followed the advances of computing technology, beginning with analog controls and evolving into microcontrollers, then system-on-a-chip (SOC) and single-board computers (SBC).
System hardware for small UAVs is often called the flight controller (FC), flight controller board (FCB) or autopilot.
Position and movement sensors give information about the aircraft state. Exteroceptive sensors deal with external information like distance measurements, while exproprioceptive ones correlate internal and external states.
Non-cooperative sensors are able to detect targets autonomously so they are used for separation assurance and collision avoidance.
Degrees of freedom (DOF) refers to both the amount and quality of sensors on board: 6 DOF implies 3-axis gyroscopes and accelerometers (a typical inertial measurement unit – IMU), 9 DOF refers to an IMU plus a compass, 10 DOF adds a barometer and 11 DOF usually adds a GPS receiver.
UAV actuators include digital electronic speed controllers (which control the RPM of the motors) linked to motors/engines and propellers, servomotors (for planes and helicopters mostly), weapons, payload actuators, LEDs and speakers.
UAV software called the flight stack or autopilot. The purpose of the flight stack is to obtain data from sensors, control motors to ensure UAV stability, and facilitate ground control and mission planning communication.
UAVs are real-time systems that require rapid response to changing sensor data. As a result, UAVs rely on single-board computers for their computational needs. Examples of such single-board computers include Raspberry Pis, Beagleboards, etc. shielded with NavIO, PXFMini, etc. or designed from scratch such as NuttX, preemptive-RT Linux, Xenomai, Orocos-Robot Operating System or DDS-ROS 2.0.
|Firmware||Time-critical||From machine code to processor execution, memory access||ArduCopter-v1, PX4|
|Middleware||Time-critical||Flight control, navigation, radio management||PX4, Cleanflight, ArduPilot|
|Operating system||Computer-intensive||Optical flow, obstacle avoidance, SLAM, decision-making||ROS, Nuttx, Linux distributions, Microsoft IOT|
Civil-use open-source stacks include:
Due to the open-source nature of UAV software, they can be customized to fit specific applications. For example, researchers from the Technical University of Košice have replaced the default control algorithm of the PX4 autopilot. This flexibility and collaborative effort has led to a large number of different open-source stacks, some of which are forked from others, such as CleanFlight, which is forked from BaseFlight and from which three other stacks are forked from.
UAVs employ open-loop, closed-loop or hybrid control architectures.
- Open loop – This type provides a positive control signal (faster, slower, left, right, up, down) without incorporating feedback from sensor data.
- Closed loop – This type incorporates sensor feedback to adjust behavior (reduce speed to reflect tailwind, move to altitude 300 feet). The PID controller is common. Sometimes, feedforward is employed, transferring the need to close the loop further.
UAVs use a radio for control and exchange of video and other data. Early UAVs had only narrowband uplink. Downlinks came later. These bi-directional narrowband radio links carried command and control (C&C) and telemetry data about the status of aircraft systems to the remote operator.
In most modern UAV applications, video transmission is required. So instead of having separate links for C&C, telemetry and video traffic, a broadband link is used to carry all types of data. These broadband links can leverage quality of service techniques and carry TCP/IP traffic that can be routed over the Internet.
The radio signal from the operator side can be issued from either:
- Ground control – a human operating a radio transmitter/receiver, a smartphone, a tablet, a computer, or the original meaning of a military ground control station (GCS).
- Remote network system, such as satellite duplex data links for some military powers. Downstream digital video over mobile networks has also entered consumer markets, while direct UAV control uplink over the cellular mesh and LTE have been demonstrated and are in trials.
- Another aircraft, serving as a relay or mobile control station – military manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).
Modern networking standards have explicitly considered drones and therefore include optimizations. The 5G standard has mandated reduced user plane latency to 1ms while using ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.
Main article: Autonomous aircraft
The level of autonomy in UAVs varies widely. UAV manufacturers often build in specific autonomous operations, such as:
- Self-level: attitude stabilization on the pitch and roll axes.
- Altitude hold: The aircraft maintains its altitude using barometric pressure and/or GPS data.
- Hover/position hold: Keep level pitch and roll, stable yaw heading and altitude while maintaining position using GNSS or inertial sensors.
- Headless mode: Pitch control relative to the position of the pilot rather than relative to the vehicle's axes.
- Care-free: automatic roll and yaw control while moving horizontally
- Take-off and landing (using a variety of aircraft or ground-based sensors and systems; see also "autoland")
- Failsafe: automatic landing or return-to-home upon loss of control signal
- Return-to-home: Fly back to the point of takeoff (often gaining altitude first to avoid possible intervening obstructions such as trees or buildings).
- Follow-me: Maintain relative position to a moving pilot or other object using GNSS, image recognition or homing beacon.
- GPS waypoint navigation: Using GNSS to navigate to an intermediate location on a travel path.
- Orbit around an object: Similar to Follow-me but continuously circle a target.
- Pre-programmed aerobatics (such as rolls and loops)
One approach to quantifying autonomous capabilities is based on OODA terminology, as suggested by a 2002 US Air Force Research Laboratory, and used in the table below:
Full autonomy is available for specific tasks, such as airborne refueling or ground-based battery switching.
Other functions available or under development include; collective flight, real-time collision avoidance, wall following, corridor centring, simultaneous localization and mapping and swarming, cognitive radio and machine learning.
UAVs can be programmed to perform aggressive maneuvers or landing/perching on inclined surfaces, and then to climb toward better communication spots. Some UAVs can control flight with varying flight modelisation, such as VTOL designs.
UAVs can also implement perching on a flat vertical surface.
UAV endurance is not constrained by the physiological capabilities of a human pilot.
Because of their small size, low weight, low vibration and high power to weight ratio, Wankel rotary engines are used in many large UAVs. Their engine rotors cannot seize; the engine is not susceptible to shock-cooling during descent and it does not require an enriched fuel mixture for cooling at high power. These attributes reduce fuel usage, increasing range or payload.
Proper drone cooling is essential for long-term drone endurance. Overheating and subsequent engine failure is the most common cause of drone failure.
Hydrogen fuel cells, using hydrogen power, may be able to extend the endurance of small UAVs, up to several hours.
Micro air vehicles endurance is so far best achieved with flapping-wing UAVs, followed by planes and multirotors standing last, due to lower Reynolds number.
Solar-electric UAVs, a concept originally championed by the AstroFlight Sunrise in 1974, have achieved flight times of several weeks.
Solar-powered atmospheric satellites ("atmosats") designed for operating at altitudes exceeding 20 km (12 miles, or 60,000 feet) for as long as five years could potentially perform duties more economically and with more versatility than low earth orbit satellites. Likely applications include weather monitoring, disaster recovery, earth imaging and communications.
Electric UAVs powered by microwave power transmission or laser power beaming are other potential endurance solutions.
Another application for a high endurance UAV would be to "stare" at a battlefield for a long interval (ARGUS-IS, Gorgon Stare, Integrated Sensor Is Structure) to record events that could then be played backwards to track battlefield activities.
Reliability improvements target all aspects of UAV systems, using resilience engineering and fault tolerance techniques.
Individual reliability covers robustness of flight controllers, to ensure safety without excessive redundancy to minimize cost and weight. Besides, dynamic assessment of flight envelope allows damage-resilient UAVs, using non-linear analysis with ad hoc designed loops or neural networks. UAV software liability is bending toward the design and certifications of crewed avionics software.
Swarm resilience involves maintaining operational capabilities and reconfiguring tasks given unit failures.
Main article: List of unmanned aerial vehicle applications
In recent years, autonomous drones have begun to transform various application areas as they can fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) while maximizing production, reducing costs and risks, ensuring site safety, security and regulatory compliance, and protecting the human workforce in times of a pandemic. They can also be used for consumer-related missions like package delivery, as demonstrated by Amazon Prime Air, and critical deliveries of health supplies.
There are numerous civilian, commercial, military, and aerospace applications for UAVs. These include:
- Recreation, Disaster relief, archeology, conservation of biodiversity and habitat, law enforcement, crime, and terrorism.
- Aerial surveillance, filmmaking, journalism, scientific research, surveying, cargo transport, mining, manufacturing, Forestry, solar farming, thermal energy, ports and agriculture.
Main article: Unmanned combat aerial vehicle
With extensive cost reductions and advancements in the UAVs technology, the defense forces around the globe are increasingly using these for various applications such as surveillance, logistics, communication, attack and combat
As of 2020, seventeen countries have armed UAVs, and more than 100 countries use UAVs in a military capacity. The global military UAV market is dominated by companies based in the United States, China, and Israel. By sale numbers, The US held over 60% military-market share in 2017. Four of top five military UAV manufactures are American including General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing, followed by the Chinese company CASC. China has established and expanded its presence in military UAV market since 2010. Of the 18 countries that are known to have received military drones between 2010 to 2019, the top 12 all purchased their drones from China. Israel companies mainly focus on small surveillance UAV system and by quantity of drones, Israel exported 60.7% (2014) of UAV on the market while the United States export 23.9% (2014); top importers of military UAV are The United Kingdom (33.9%) and India (13.2%). United States alone operated over 9,000 military UAVs in 2014. General Atomics is the dominant manufacturer with the Global Hawk and Predator/Mariner systems product-line.
For intelligence and reconnaissance missions, the inherent stealth of micro UAV flapping-wing ornithopters, imitating birds or insects, offers potential for covert surveillance and makes them difficult targets to bring down.
Reconnaissance, attack, demining, and target practice
The civilian (commercial and general) drone market is dominated by Chinese companies. Chinese drone manufacturer DJI alone had 74% of the civil market share in 2018, with no other company accounting for more than 5%, and with $11 billion forecast global sales in 2020. Following increased scrutiny of its activities, the US Interior Department grounded its fleet of DJI drones in 2020, while the Justice Department prohibited the use of federal funds for the purchase of DJI and other foreign made UAVs. DJI is followed by Chinese company Yuneec, US company 3D Robotics and French company Parrot with a significant gap in market share. As of May 2021, 873,576 UAVs have been registered with the US FAA, of which 42% are categorized as commercial drones and 58% as recreational drones. 2018 NPD point to consumers increasingly purchasing drones with more advanced features with 33 percent growth in both the $500+ and $1000+ market segments.
The civil UAV market is relatively new compared to the military one. Companies are emerging in both developed and developing nations at the same time. Many early stage startups have received support and funding from investors as is the case in the United States and by government agencies as is the case in India. Some universities offer research and training programs or degrees. Private entities also provide online and in-person training programs for both recreational and commercial UAV use.
Consumer drones are also widely used by military organizations worldwide because of the cost-effective nature of consumer product. In 2018, Israeli military started to use DJIMavic and Matrice series of UAV for light reconnaissance mission since the civil drones are easier to use and have higher reliability. DJI drones is also the most widely used commercial unmanned aerial system that the US Army has employed. DJI surveillance drones have also been used by Chinese police in Xinjiang since 2017.
The global UAV market will reach US$21.47 billion, with the Indian market touching the US$885.7 million mark, by 2021.
Lighted drones are beginning to be used in nighttime displays for artistic and advertising purposes.
Drones are ideally suited to capturing aerial shots in photography and cinematography, and are widely used for this purpose. Small drones avoid the need for precise coordination between pilot and cameraman, with the same person taking on both roles. However, big drones with professional cine cameras, there is usually a drone pilot and a camera operator who controls camera angle and lens. For example, the AERIGON cinema drone which is used in film production in big blockbuster movies is operated by 2 people. Drones provide access to dangerous, remote and awkward sites that are inaccessible by ordinary means.
Agriculture and forestry
Main article: Agricultural drone
As global demand for food production grows exponentially, resources are depleted, farmland is reduced, and agricultural labor is increasingly in short supply, there is an urgent need for more convenient and smarter agricultural solutions than traditional methods, and the agricultural drone and robotics industry is expected to make progress. Agricultural drones have been used in areas such as Africa to help build sustainable agriculture.
The use of UAVs is also being investigated to help detect and fight wildfires, whether through observation or launching pyrotechnic devices to start backfires.
Main article: Use of UAVs in law enforcement
Police can use drones for applications such as search and rescue and traffic monitoring.
Safety and security
See also: List of UAV-related incidents
UAVs can threaten airspace security in numerous ways, including unintentional collisions or other interference with other aircraft, deliberate attacks or by distracting pilots or flight controllers. The first incident of a drone-airplane collision occurred in mid-October 2017 in Quebec City, Canada. The first recorded instance of a drone collision with a hot air balloon occurred on 10 August 2018 in Driggs, Idaho, United States; although there was no significant damage to the balloon nor any injuries to its 3 occupants, the balloon pilot reported the incident to the National Transportation Safety Board, stating that "I hope this incident helps create a conversation of respect for nature, the airspace, and rules and regulations". Unauthorized UAV flights into or near major airports have prompted extended shutdowns of commercial flights.
Drones caused significant disruption at Gatwick Airport during December 2018, needing the deployment of the British Army.
In the United States, flying close to a wildfire is punishable by a maximum $25,000 fine. Nonetheless, in 2014 and 2015, firefighting air support in California was hindered on several occasions, including at the Lake Fire and the North Fire. In response, California legislators introduced a bill that would allow firefighters to disable UAVs which invaded restricted airspace. The FAA later required registration of most UAVs.
By 2017, drones were being used to drop contraband into prisons.
The interest in UAVs cyber security has been raised greatly after the Predator UAV video stream hijacking incident in 2009, where Islamic militants used cheap, off-the-shelf equipment to stream video feeds from a UAV. Another risk is the possibility of hijacking or jamming a UAV in flight. Several security researchers have made public some vulnerabilities in commercial UAVs, in some cases even providing full source code or tools to reproduce their attacks. At a workshop on UAVs and privacy in October 2016, researchers from the Federal Trade Commission showed they were able to hack into three different consumer quadcopters and noted that UAV manufacturers can make their UAVs more secure by the basic security measures of encrypting the Wi-Fi signal and adding password protection.
UAVs could be loaded with dangerous payloads, and crashed into vulnerable targets. Payloads could include explosives, chemical, radiological or biological hazards. UAVs with generally non-lethal payloads could possibly be hacked and put to malicious purposes. Anti-UAV systems are being developed by states to counter this threat. This is, however, proving difficult. As Dr J. Rogers stated in an interview to A&T "There is a big debate out there at the moment about what the best way is to counter these small UAVs, whether they are used by hobbyists causing a bit of a nuisance or in a more sinister manner by a terrorist actor".
Counter unmanned air system
Further information: electronic warfare
The malicious use of UAVs has led to the development of counter unmanned air system (C-UAS) technologies such as the Aaronia AARTOS which have been installed on major international airports. Anti-aircraft missile systems, such as the Iron Dome are also being enhanced with C-UAS technologies.
Main article: Regulation of unmanned aerial vehicles
Regulatory bodies around the world are developing Unmanned aircraft system traffic management solutions to better integrate UAVs into airspace.
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or Drones, is becoming increasingly regulated by the national aviation authority of individual countries. Regulatory regimes can differ significantly according to drone size and use. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) began exploring the use of drone technology as far back as 2005, which resulted in a 2011 report. France was among the first countries to set a national framework based on this report and larger aviation bodies such as the FAA and the EASA quickly followed suit. In 2021, the FAA published a rule requiring all commercially-used UAVs and all UAVs regardless of intent weighing 250g or more to participate in Remote ID, which makes drone locations, controller locations, and other information public from takeoff to shutdown; this rule has since been challenged in the pending federal lawsuit RaceDayQuads v. FAA.
The export of UAVs or technology capable of carrying a 500 kg payload at least 300 km is restricted in many countries by the Missile Technology Control Regime.
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