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All You Need to Know About Military Drones: 17 Questions Answered

Updated in 2024 by Paul Posea
military drones

Are you curious about military drones and their advantage over forces in the field? Drones have become an invaluable tool for modern-day military operations, providing reconnaissance and surveying capabilities that seemed like science fiction years ago.In this article, we'll answer the 17 most common questions about military drones, from how they are used in combat to why their shape is essential. So if you're a drone enthusiast or military buff looking for more information on these devices, read on! We promise you won't be disappointed!

History and Use of Military Drones

1. What is a military drone?

Military drones come in various sizes and shapes, depending on the mission requirements.

A military drone is an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) that the Military can use for reconnaissance, surveillance and strike missions. These drones are often equipped with powerful sensors, cameras and other instrumentation necessary to collect data and provide accurate information to their controlling authorities. 

Drone 1

They are usually built for endurance, agility and maneuverability to carry out complex missions in hostile environments. Different models of military drones have distinct features and capabilities.

For example, some drones are designed for reconnaissance missions, while others may be configured for strike missions or surveillance. Some drones are tailored for long-range missions or endurance in harsh environments.

In addition to these differences, each drone model may offer different types of sensor packages or video feeds that can provide an operator with various data and information about the target area or enemy forces. 

Ultimately, the choice between different models of military drones will depend on the specific mission requirements and the resources available to the buyer.

We can start by saying that drones in military operations come in all shapes and sizes. Let's start with the size:

  • Nano drones (Very small drones ) - UAVs that weigh up to 250g (up to 8.8oz) 
  • Micro drones (Very small) - UAVs weighing 251g to 2kg (8.9oz to 4.4lbs).
  • Mini drones (Small ) - UAVs that weigh between 2.1-25kg (4.6-55.1lbs).
  • Medium drones - UAVs weighing 25.1-150kg (55.3-331lbs).
  • Large drones - UAVs that weigh over 151kg (over 333lbs).

Types of military drones according to design

  • Fixed-wing design 
  • Multi-rotor design 
  • Single rotor design 
  • Hybrid VTOL design

Military UAVs can be categorized based on the range they can achieve:

  • Close-range UAVs – Up to 50km
  • Short-range UAVs – Between 51-160km
  • Mid-range UAVs – Over 200km
  • Long-range/Endurance UAVs – Indefinite range

Military drones can be classified by their range, design, and function. For range, UAVs are divided into four categories: close-range (up to 50km), short-range (51-160km), mid-range (over 200km), and long/endurance range (indefinite). 

In terms of design, there are four types of military drones: fixed-wing, multi-rotor, single-rotor, and hybrid VTOL

Fixed-wing UAVs resemble traditional manned commercial aircraft as they have a set of wings. Multi-rotor UAVs have 3 or more propellers - these include tri-copters (3 props), quadcopters (4 props), hexacopters (6 props) and octocopters (8 props).

Single-rotor UAVs resemble helicopters as they only have one main rotor and a small tail rotor.

Hybrid VTOL UAVs combine fixed-wing and rotary-blade designs found in single and multi-rotor drones. 

Types of military drones according to their function

Military UAVs can be used for a multitude of applications. Here are 6 types of military drones according to their function:

  • Intelligence drones
  • Surveillance drones
  • Reconnaissance drones
  • Target acquisition drones
  • Decoy drones
  • Research and development drones

And, finally, some real-use scenarios! The following is a list of different models of military drones and their capabilities:

  • MQ-9 Reaper: Capable of both visual and infrared monitoring with the ability to launch missiles or bombs. It is considered the most dangerous military drone in the world.
  • MQ-1 Predator: Long-range endurance, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
  • RQ-4 Global Hawk: High altitude, long range surveillance using advanced sensor packages.
  • ScanEagle UAV: Smaller drone with excellent surveillance capabilities, including day and night vision.
  • Fotokite Pro Tethered Drone: Offers stable video footage in real-time without needing onboard stabilization or navigation systems.
  • Switchblade Drone: A small and maneuverable combat drone equipped with munitions for strike operations.

2. When were military drones invented?

It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment when military drone tests started. Various countries developed modern military drones in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Since then, drones have seen exponential growth and now play an integral role in warfare and security operations worldwide.

Military drone history

3. When did the military start to use drones?

The United States began using UAVs for reconnaissance missions in Kosovo in 2000, and Israel was the first country to use drones for strike operations with its successful assassination of a Hamas leader in 2002.

4. How do military drones work?

Military drones are like spies in the sky, providing a safe distance between their operators and their targets. Depending on the model, these aerial machines can be deployed for surveillance or launch attacks with missiles and bombs.

Most military drones rely on a combination of onboard sensors and communications systems to operate effectively. 

These sensors can include cameras, radars, and other sensors that allow the drone to observe and monitor its surroundings. The communications systems will enable the drone to receive commands from its operators and transmit video and other data back to base.

Some military drones are piloted by humans, who control the vehicle remotely from a ground station or aircraft. As an operator, you may rely on video feeds and other sensor data to navigate the drone and keep it on course.

Other military drones are capable of autonomous flight, meaning they can operate without direct human input. These drones may use pre-programmed flight plans or rely on AI to navigate and carry out mission objectives.

Military drones may be equipped with various weapons and other equipment depending on their mission. For example, some drones are designed for reconnaissance, serving as eyes in the sky for ground units or providing intelligence to command centers. Other drones may be armed with missiles or bombs, allowing them to strike targets from the air. 

Additionally, depending on their intended use, some drones may be equipped with electronic warfare capabilities or other specialized equipment.

5. How many military drones does the US have?

It is difficult to determine exactly how many military drones the US has, as the information is not readily available to the public. However, estimates suggest that the US military currently operates around 10,000 drones, most of which are smaller, unmanned aircraft used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. That's quite a fleet right there!

This figure includes both fixed-wing drones and quadcopters, as well as more advanced drones designed for combat operations, such as the MQ-9 Reaper and the RQ-4 Global Hawk

The United States military has a fleet of over 11.000 drones, which includes reconnaissance drones, attack drones, transport drones, bomb disposal drones and surveillance/surveillance-strike (SS) drones.

6. Who makes drones for US military?

Currently, several companies make drones for the US military. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation, Boeing Insitu Inc., and Lockheed Martin Corporation. Each company produces different types of drones with varying capabilities.

US Military drone

7. Does Russia have military drones?

Russia has various military drones, ranging from small surveillance drones to larger weaponized UAVs. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions and offensive operations.

The Russian Military has used drones since the early 2000s, and their use has grown significantly in recent years. In 2020, Russia deployed its first armed drone squadron in Syria. The division was equipped with the Orlan-10 and Forpost drones, capable of carrying out reconnaissance missions and launching airstrikes on targets.

Cost and Specifications of Military Drones

8. How big is a military drone?

The size of military drones varies depending on the type and mission. Generally, reconnaissance and surveillance drones range from small hand-launched models such as the Raven, which weighs in at around 5 kg, to large multirotor designs such as the Wolf Spider at 70 kg.

Military drone size

Attack drones are typically much bigger and heavier than reconnaissance drones, with some models, such as the Predator series, measuring up to 8 meters in length and weighing 890 kg. That's already "small fighter jet" territory!

9. How fast are military drones?

Military drones come in various shapes, sizes and specifications, and their maximum speeds depend on their design and intended purpose. 

Some drones, such as the MQ-9 Reaper or the General Atomics Predator, can achieve speeds of around 300 mph, making them faster than most commercial airliners.

Military drone speed

Others, like the RQ-4 Global Hawk, fly at a slower pace of around 350 mph, but have an extended range and the ability to stay aloft for hours, making them suitable for long-distance reconnaissance missions. There are also smaller, faster drones such as the MQ-8 Fire Scout or the K-46 tiltrotor, which can zoom around at speeds over 110 mph, making them more agile and suited to quick surveillance, reconnaissance, and attack missions. 

However, the top speeds of military drones are not the only factors determining their effectiveness, as factors like stealth, durability, and range are also important considerations for their mission success.

10. What is the range of a military-equipped drone?

The range of a military drone can vary depending on the type of drone and its intended use. Some smaller, tactical drones may only have a few miles range, while larger, long-range drones can cover thousands of miles. 

The MQ-9 Reaper, for example, has a range of over 1,000 nautical miles and can stay airborne for up to 27 hours at a time. The RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high-altitude surveillance drone, can fly up to 60,000 feet above ground level and has a range of over 14,000 nautical miles. 

11. How much do military drones cost? 

Military drones vary in cost depending on their size, capabilities, and technology. The smaller drones can range from a few thousand dollars up to $100,000. Medium-sized drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper or the Predator B can cost between $5 million to $15 million, while the larger Global Hawk drones can cost up to $220 million each. Aside from the drone itself, additional costs exist, such as maintenance and training for the operators. It is important to note that private defense contractors produce some military drones on behalf of governments, so the final cost may also include the cost of the contract. Guess I won't get one of these soon.

The Benefits and Challenges of Using Military Drones

12. What are the benefits of using military drones? 

Using military drones has significantly improved the effectiveness and efficiency of military operations. Drones minimize the risk of harm to military personnel as they can operate from a safe distance. They can also be used for surveillance and intelligence gathering, which helps identify potential threats and prevent attacks. 

Additionally, drones can stay in the air for extended periods and cover large areas, which is helpful in search and rescue missions. Overall, military drones have proved to be an asset in military operations, improving personnel safety and providing a tactical advantage.

 
13. What are some challenges associated with deploying military drones?

Deploying drones can be a complex endeavor. Military forces must have solid logistical and technical plans to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Logistically, this means pre-planning and coordinating equipment and personnel. Technically, drones must be equipped with reliable communication systems and navigational aids that trained operators operate. 

Lastly, integrating these new technologies into existing command structures requires technical know-how and understanding current regulations and policies. All in all, it's a complicated task -- one that requires top-notch expertise and planning!

14. How do military drones provide an advantage for the Military?

Military drones provide a major advantage to modern forces. Their ability to operate at great distances makes them invaluable for reconnaissance, surveillance, and even tactical strikes. Additionally, they reduce the risk of human casualties while still offering flexibility with their various payload options. 

They can also be used in hazardous conditions that may be too dangerous for human personnel. In short, military drones are a powerful tool in the modern arsenal, providing an edge when it comes to situational awareness and precision targeting.

15. Is the use of military drones ethical?

When it comes to the ethics of using military drones, it's a complex and nuanced question. It's important to consider how drones are being used, their capabilities, and any measures taken to protect civilians. Of course, other ethical concerns need to be weighed such as civilian casualties, AI-based decisions regarding targeted strikes, increased militarization, and whether or not the use of drones is proportional to the threats posed.

The most pressing ethical concern about military drones is the potential for civilian casualties or strikes in unauthorized areas. As drones become more autonomous, it is essential to ensure that they are regulated and appropriately monitored and that any decisions made by AI systems regarding targeted strikes are reliable.

There is also the concern that increased militarization could lead to increased violence, so it is vital to consider whether using military drones is necessary and proportional to the threats posed before making a decision. It is up to us as a society to decide when drone technology is appropriate and safe.

Questions About Potential Applications of Military Drones 

16. How could military drones be used for civilian applications?

Military drones have the potential to be used for various civilian applications. One of the most significant uses is for agricultural purposes. 

For example, drones can help farmers to monitor crop health and estimate crop yield with greater accuracy. Drones can also help in search and rescue operations, where they can be used to locate missing people and provide situational awareness to rescue teams. 

Another potential use of drones is in infrastructure inspection, such as power lines, bridges, and oil rigs, which can be monitored quickly and safely. Additionally, drones can map out areas that are difficult to access, like mountain ranges, and assess the potential for natural hazards.

Veritasium has a fascinating video about the coolest applications of military drones for civilians:

Overall, the versatility and flexibility of military drones can be harnessed for various civilian applications, benefiting society in multiple ways. You know, outside the "War" thing.

17. What potential applications of military drones in the future can we expect to see?

We can expect to see a number of potential applications for military drones in the future. The use of military drones could also expand beyond traditional warfare to include peacekeeping operations, border control and anti-piracy efforts. As technology continues to evolve and improve, we can also expect to see other innovative uses for military drones in the future.

Different types of military drones

Conclusion

There you have everything you ever needed to know about military drones! Or at least the answers to the most common questions people have.

Whether used for reconnaissance and surveillance or launching missiles as part of a mission, they are essential to armies worldwide. We provided tips on size, shape, and pricing so our readers could better understand the subject. 

As mentioned before, despite the warfare implications of military drones, there are also humanitarian applications at hand. But regardless of what direction these fantastic pieces of technology take, one thing is certain: Military drones will continue to play a significant role in modern combat.

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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