October 19, 2015

An Overview of Military Drones

MQ-9 Reaper UAV Drone

Since the 19th Century when tethered balloons were used to provide an elevated view of the landscape all around armed forces have sought to use the advantages of altitude for reconnaissance.  During the First World War aircraft where used for this task and the same process continues to this day, but it is only in recent decades that remotely operated military drones have revolutionsed this type of information gathering as well as the delivery of ordnance.

Military drones vary in size, capacity, endurance, and complexity.  They range from small hand launched devices powered by batteries to large, turbojet aircraft that can remain aloft for hours at a time.  The may be rotary or fixed wing aircraft and consequently they will have a variety of launch platforms. In this post we’ll look at examples from some of these categories.

110930-N-JQ696-401 PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (Sept. 30, 2011) An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) successfully completes the first unmanned biofuel flight at Webster Field. The aircraft flew with a combination of JP-5 aviation fuel and plant-based non-food source camellia. Fire Scout is the seventh and final aircraft to demonstrate the versatility of biofuel through its use in all facets of naval aviation. (U.S. Navy photo by Kelly Schindler/Released)

US Navy 110930-N-JQ696-401 An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (cropped)” by U.S. Navy photo by Kelly Schindler – www.navy.mil. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Fire Scout UAV

The Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout is a four blade rotary wing UAV based on the Bell 407 helicopter.  It has stub wings which can be used to carry a variety of ordnance including Hellfire missiles and laser guided rockets.  This means it can be used not only for reconnaissance, but all so air fire support for both sea and land forces.

The US Navy carried out tests in the 2000s and eventuallly brought this UAV into service during the wars in Afghanistan and Libya where they were used for ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance).  They have also been used in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Africa and in these combined theatres they have proved their value and will probably be put to use in maritime surveillance operations for the US Coast Guard as well as other military roles.


The IAI Eitan was developed from his predecessor, the Heron. It is a medium to long range UAV designed for ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance).  An armed version is also likely to be produced at some point.  This MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV can fly above the commerical aviation for over seventy hours.  It can fly in all but the most extreme weather conditions and can take-off and land automatically.

Black Hornet Nano Drone

The Black Hornet nano drone is a small rotary wing UAV equipped with two tiny cameras and it can fly for up to 20 minutes.  These drones were developed by Prox Dynamics AS of Norway and used by the British Army in Afghanistan where they were flown into enemy territory to record video and take still images.  The camera view can be monitored on a small handheld terminal enabling the solidiers to scan the area for enemy activity and threats.

Predator and Reaper Drones

MQ-9 Reaper UAV DroneIf you were to stop someone in the street and to ask them to think of a military drone they would probably think of one of these variants first. However, the MQ1-B Predator is primarily a reconnaissance aircraft whereas the MQ-9 Reaper is larger and much more powerful.  It can therefore carry heavier payloads and has greater endurance.  It’s primary role is as a hunter/killer aircraft and it is the Reaper that so often fires the Hellfire missiles as depicted in films and TV shows like [easyazon_link identifier=”B00PFVQ9CM” locale=”UK” tag=”droneuav-21″]Homeland[/easyazon_link].  The Predator can carry a couple of Hellfires missiles, but the Reaper can carry four as well as two additional laser guided bombs in one mission.

This is just a brief introduction to [easyazon_link identifier=”1909982822″ locale=”UK” tag=”droneuav-21″]military drones[/easyazon_link]. There are many more types in use and being developed. It’s likely that we will see increasing numbers being tested and deployed as time goes on.

[easyazon_infoblock align=”center” identifier=”1909982822″ locale=”UK” tag=”droneuav-21″]