Unmanned Aerial Vehicle over Iraq
An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), also called a drone, is a self-descriptive term used by the US military, the Israeli Defence Forces and others to describe the latest generations of pilotless aircraft. Taken literally, the term could describe anything from kites, through hobbyist radio-controlled aircraft, to cruise missiles from the V-1 Flying Bomb onwards, but in the military parlance is restricted to reusable heavier-than-air craft.
The earliest such craft were developed after World War 1, and they were used during the Second World War to train antiaircraft gunners. Nevertheless, they were little more than full-sized remote controlled airplanes until the late 20th century. Lately, interest in such craft has grown within the higher echelons of the US military, as they offer the possibility of cheaper, more capable fighting machines that can be used without risk to aircrews. Initial generations have primarily been surveillance aircraft, but some have already been fitted with weaponry (such as the RQ-1 Predator, which has been fitted with AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles). The military envisions that more and more roles will be performed by unmanned aircraft, initially bombing and ground attack, with air-to-air combat expected to be the last domain of the fighter pilot for now. Unmanned fighter jets are known as the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle or UCAV for short.
The Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) have pioneered the production and usage of UAV for military purposes, as early as 1982. The IMI Scout UAV System has played an important combat role both in the service of the Israeli Ground Forces and Israeli Air Force, during the Operation Peace for Galilee. The IDF uses the UAVs mainly for reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, scouting and communications. The IAI Pioneer was purchased by the US armed forces and proved itself as a reliable system in the first and second Gulf Wars in Iraq.
UAVs in service
- RQ-1 Predator/RQ-1 Mariner
- RQ-2 Pioneer (with the IAI)
- RQ-3 Dark Star
- RQ-4 Global Hawk/Euro Hawk
- RQ-5 Hunter (with the IAI)
- RQ-6 Outrider
- RQ-7 Shadow
- Dragon Eye
South African Models:
- Kentron Seeker
- ATE Vulture
- IAI Pioneer (with the USA)
- RQ-5 Hunter (with the USA)
- IAI Harpy
- IAI Heron
- IAI Ranger
- IAI Scout
- IAI Searcher
- IAI Skylite - Canister Launched mini-UAV system
NASA has been sponsoring research into a solar-powered UAV called Helios, which in 2001 reached an altitude of almost 30 km. Helios broke up and crashed over the Pacific on 26 June 2003.
Commercial interest in non-military UAVs has led to several startups that are designing and selling autonomous aircraft. These include Rotomotion (http://www.rotomotion.com/), Neural Robotics (http://neural-robotics.com/), The Insitu Group (http://www.insitugroup.com), Micropilot (http://www.micropilot.com/) and the Free Software autopilot project (http://autopilot.sourceforge.net/).
- "Human Pilots: Who Needs 'Em?" (http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,61347,00.html) – Wired News, 23 Nov 2003
- AUVS International Aerial Robotics Competition (http://avdil.gtri.gatech.edu/AUVS/IARCLaunchPoint.html) – Home page by Robert Michelson, AUVS International / Georgia Tech Research Institute
- SRA's UAV Forum (http://www.uavfourm.com/) – Site by SRA Int'l describing the current UAV market
- IMI UAVs (http://www.iai.co.il/site/en/iai.asp?pi=18892)