Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)

| last update: 2014-02-23

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) - commonly known as drones - are a major advancement in aviation. Nowadays they are predominantly used for military applications like remote sensing or surveillance. Armed drones are used to engage targets.

Drones in Use & in Development

UCAV: Unmanned combat aerial vehicle / armed drone

most important UCAV projects
MQ-1 Predator General Atomics in use Originally designed as an ISR-system. Armed since the year 2002.
MQ-9 Reaper General Atomics in use turboprop Designed to be armed. Higher payload and faster than the Predator. [Comparison]
Avenger General Atomics in development jet
nEUROn Dassault demonstrator Datasheet
Phantom Ray Boeing demonstrator
Taranis BAE Systems demonstrator jet Stealth / supersonic / Field Test in 2013
X-47B Northrop Grumman demonstrator completing flight tests

HALE: high-altitude, long-endurance / high flying surveillance drone

most important HALE-UAV projects
RQ-4 Global Hawk Northrop Grumman in use turbofan Datasheet
Euro Hawk EADS & Northrop Grumman in development turbofan
Barracuda Cassidian (EADS) demonstrator
Phantom Eye Boeing in development hydrogen-powered
RQ-170 Sentinel Lockheed Martin in use One of those very advanced UAV crashed 2011 during a mission over Iran. See New York Times Coverage of that incident.
RQ-180 Northrop Grumman classified Stealth technology. | The existence of the program was revealed in a cover story of Aviation Week & Space Technology (9 December 2013).
MQ-4C Triton Northrop Grumman in development ongoing flight tests | delivery to US Navy planned for 2017 | Wired Magazine Article

MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance / standard surveillance drone) and Others

most important MALE-UAV projects
Heron I IAI in use Datasheet
Heron TP IAI in use Datasheet
ScanEagle Boeing & Insitu Group in use Datasheet | Commercially used by ConocoPhillips off the Alaska coast (see New York Times (December 30, 2013).
Raven AeroVironment in use Datasheet
Stalker XE Lockheed Martin in use Video | Datasheet | ongoing test with a laser powering system

In December 2013 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected several drone test sites. This is an important step toward integrated airspace.

other programs:

  • Iran
    • Binnie, Jeremy (November 21, 2012). “Rise of the Pahphad. Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicles programme is growing in sophistication.” In: Jane’s Defence Weekly 49.47, pp.30–32.
    • Paraszczuk, Joanna (December 12, 2012). “Iran admits exporting drones, UAV tech to Venezuela”. In: Jerusalem Post, p.7
  • China
    • Perrett, Bradley (November 26, 2012). “Branching Out. China’s main space contractor has developed a medium-altitude civil UAV”. In: Aviation Week and Space Technology 174.42, pp.30–31.
  • Pakistan
    • Boone, Jon (November 14, 2012). “Pakistan may be developing combat drones”. In: The Guardian, p.18

Drone Strikes

Targeted killings with drones led to fierce discussions in the media and in research. Armed Drones are reported to be currently (February 2014) used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The Washington Post maintains a database of alleged drone strikes.

Further Reading on Drones


  • Boyle, Michael J. (2013). „The costs and consequences of drone warfare“. In: International Affairs 89.1, pp. 1–29. doi: 10.1111/1468-2346.12002.
  • Byman, Daniel (2013). "Why Drones Work. The Case for Washington’s Weapon of Choice". In: Foreign Affairs 92.4, pp. 32–43.
  • Chalk, Peter und Ben Brandt (2012). "Drone wars. Unmanned aerial vehicles in counter-terrorism". In: Jane’s Intelligence Review 24.8, pp. 24–28.
  • Cronin, Audrey Kurth (2013). "Why Drones Fail. When Tactics Drive Strategy". In: Foreign Affairs 92.4, pp. 44–54.