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UAV worldwide
efore the 1990s, Israel alone

B seemed truly committed to develop-

ing unmanned military aircraft,
which it believed would reduce the
loss of pilots and aircraft on dangerous recon-
naissance and surveillance missions. Although
the U.S. had been using remotely piloted ve-
hicles (primarily as aerial targets) since the
1960s, the technologies to make unmanned
aerial vehicles more than a curiosity did not
yet exist.
Not until Operation Desert Storm, and
the remarkable success of Pioneer—a joint de-
velopment of Israel Aircraft Industries and AAI
in the U.S.—did UAVs begin to win converts.
Pioneer, first called into service as a combat
spotter by the Navy on February 6, 1991,
aided the battleship Wisconsin in locating Iraqi
boats and shore targets 19 mi. away, and
The proliferation of UAVs continues to then destroying them with its 16-in. guns.
It was not long before Iraqi soldiers
accelerate, with a growing number of learned to associate the buzzing of the tiny Pi-
oneer with the Earth-shattering bombardment
companies, countries, and innovative that followed moments later—leading to the
first-ever surrenders of human soldiers to (un-
designs entering the market. armed) flying robots in combat. The real-time
and near-real-time tactical reconnaissance
provided by Navy, Marine, and Army UAVs
helped bring that conflict to a rapid end.
Pioneer also quickly caught the attention
of military and government leaders and the
media throughout the world. Aerospace firms
in the U.S., Europe, and Asia pulled long-
ignored concepts out of their files, updating
them with new technologies and materials.
Newer UAVs were sent into service in the
Balkans a few years later and continued flying
over Iraq, helping to enforce no-fly zones and
preventing Iraq’s military from conducting sur-
prise attacks on its own people.
By the time of Operation Enduring Free-
dom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Free-
dom following the September 11, 2001, ter-
rorist attacks, just how far UAV technology
by J.R. Wilson
had advanced quickly became evident. South-
Contributing writer


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e roundup 2009
west Asia became a proving ground for a wide field damage assessment by the Army and
array of UAVs, led by the Predator, which Marine Corps, had flown some 400,000 hr
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems had over Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of 2008
developed for the USAF. Others ranged from (including those operated by the Romanian air
hand-launched, over-the-hill observation air- force). Those numbers are expected to jump
craft to the jet-fighter-sized Global Hawk, sent substantially this year, as military leaders note
into service while still a prototype. that UAV operations in Afghanistan have
Predators also became the world’s first been doubling every three months.
armed UAVs when the CIA equipped some of One of the most popular UAVs in South-
its own with Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, west Asia is the 4-lb Raven, which warfighters
originally developed for helicopter use against hurl into the air like javelins. Its Raven
tanks (helicopter fire-and-forget). The UAVs three nose cameras then enable
were used to attack an al-Qaida convoy near them to see who or what is waiting
Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan on Febru- over the next hill or behind the
ary 2, 2002, opening a new chapter in UAV next building. Hundreds have been
combat applications. deployed to Iraq, part of thousands
Moving on to Iraq the next year, both of different UAVs now belonging
armed and unarmed Predators dominated the to the U.S. military and coalition
skies over Baghdad and across the country. In forces—roughly twice as many un-
a single year (June 2005-June 2006), long af- manned as manned aircraft.
ter the toppling of Hussein’s government, UAVs also have seen increasing use in
Predators spent nearly 34,000 hr in the air, other parts of the world—from Eastern Europe
flying more than 2,000 missions over Iraq. to the Horn of Africa, from antipiracy patrols
With the demand for Predators growing over the Straits of Malacca, to drug and illegal
beyond the number available to military com- alien interdiction along national borders, to
manders, a host of other UAVs were sent to agricultural, fire detection, wildlife tracking,
Southwest Asia. Of those, Predator and and weather observation missions worldwide.
Global Hawk were controlled via satellite by These aircraft have moved to the top of both
Air Force personnel in the U.S. The remain- military and civilian government, industry, and
der, however, are strictly local—launched, op- academic requirements lists across the globe.
erated, and recovered by ground and naval
forces in-theater.
The AAI-built Shadow, used primarily for TECHNOLOGY
reconnaissance, target acquisition, and battle- Today’s UAVs, and their users, are benefiting
from a nearly “perfect storm” of turn-of-the-
century technology breakthroughs.
Faster, less expensive computer technol-
ogy has enabled more and better sensors.
Lighter, more durable composite materials for
skin and structure, combined with more pow-
erful lightweight powerplants, increased both
payload and range. GPS navigation and loca-
tion have given UAVs unprecedented preci-
sion in reaching designated targets and pin-
pointing targets of opportunity. Improved
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size, weight, and capability in satellite commu- 1,000 lb of payload, produce 5 kW of on-
nications have enhanced contact with ground board power, demonstrate 99% on-station
forces in remote mountains and urban capability and high probability of mission suc-
“canyons” and added communications relay cess—and stay aloft for five years without
to the growing list of UAV missions. landing.
By 2000, so many advances and suc- Also being resurrected in labs, thanks to
cesses had been recorded that Sen. John both advances in micro- and nanotechnology
Warner (R-Va.), then chairman of the Armed and the desire to see and hear inside build-
Services Committee, inserted a directive into ings, are bird- and insect-style MAVs, the first
the defense budget mandating that a third of targeted for 2015, the latter for 2030. Tiny
all aircraft used to attack behind enemy lines platforms, designed with flapping wings to
had to be unmanned by 2010. The following make them more easily mistaken for actual
year, the September 11 attacks forced a birds or insects, could be launched in a swarm
rewrite of all budget, technology, and defense into a building to seek out terrorists, hostages,
plans. The Pentagon budget jumped 74% be- snipers, and intelligence.
tween 2002 and 2008 (even without the costs UAVs are so much a part of warfare and
of the wars), with an equally substantial boost military planning that two new concepts—ded-
in R&D and procurement funding, especially icated UAV carriers and counter-UAV sys-
for UAVs and ground and water counterparts. tems—are under consideration or develop-
New battlefield successes further bol- ment. The most ambitious of the former is the
stered the increasingly positive environment UXV Combatant warship proposed by BAE
for all unmanned systems, turning them into a Systems. The 8,000-ton vessel, which could
global growth industry attracting both estab- enter service in the 2020s if pursued by a ma-
lished defense giants and start-ups. With that jor naval force, would be dedicated to the
much money and openness to new concepts, launch and recovery of large numbers of un-
the how-when-where of UAV use grew almost manned vehicles, serving as mothership, con-
exponentially. trol center, and maintenance facility for UAVs
Predator or Global Hawk can be “piloted” and, in all likelihood, unmanned surface and
from ground stations halfway around the underwater vessels as well. Serving as a kind
world, while a hand-launched micro air vehi- of small carrier, it also could host helicopters,
cle (MAV) like the Marine Corps Wasp can be VTOL aircraft like the Marine Corps V-22,
monitored from a laptop or hand-held video and smart munitions such as cruise missiles.
display. Specialty UAVs “sniff” the air for Another group of BAE engineers has de-
chemical or biological weapons, monitor radi- veloped a land-based launch boost system for
ation levels, look for improvised explosive de- small UAVs, pairing vehicles up to 25 kg with
vices, protect convoys from ambush, patrol a mortar-based launcher. That would give
borders, locate smugglers and terrorists using small units more capable aircraft while incor-
small boats, aid search and rescue missions, porating a technology that greatly reduces the
and perform a seemingly endless list of addi- typical launch forces a mortar creates—forces
tional tasks. that would seriously damage most UAVs.
The growing variety of platforms world- The U.S. and its allies are not the only
wide has led to a wide range of shapes, sizes, militaries deploying or planning to deploy
propulsion systems, and range/altitude/en- UAVs, of course. And although the technolo-
durance mixes. That, in turn, has brought gies that have made the current generation of
about a rebirth for lighter-than-air unmanned U.S., European, and Israeli systems so suc-
fliers, from small and medium-sized tethered cessful will take time and resources to dupli-
balloons and blimps to massive powered air- cate, the speed with which space launchers
ships. Lockheed Martin, for example, is de- and nuclear weapons are proliferating sug-
signing a high-altitude airship 25 times larger gests that gap may close far faster in the less
than the Goodyear blimp that could remain complex UAV race. As a result, engineers also
“parked” 100,000 ft above its target zone for are now looking at anti-UAV systems, both to
weeks or even months. use against potential adversaries and to learn
Even that does not come close to the how best to protect their own UAVs from
Vulture, currently in competitive design for someone else’s countermeasures.
DARPA by Aurora Flight Services, Boeing “We’re very concerned about the emerg-
Integrated Defense Systems, and Lockheed ing unmanned aerial vehicle threat and, in
Martin Skunk Works. The program work fact, a lot of us here think that threat is here
statement was extremely basic: Carry at least and now,” Michael Means, business develop-


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ment manager for the Stinger antiaircraft tion of UAVs, with over 90 different
missile at Raytheon, told the Association for aircraft or variants, from some 30
Unmanned Vehicle Systems International manufacturers. Those platforms
(AUVSI) last December. “Currently, the Army run the gamut from MAVs to multi-
doesn’t have a near-term cost-effective capa- ton behemoths.
bility to counter an emerging UAV threat to The European Union’s basic
protect brigade combat teams and high-prior- UAV thrust has been to develop
ity assets.” dual-use systems for military and Patria mini-UAV
Raytheon is looking at a modified Stinger, civilian applications, thus broaden-
either hand-held or mounted on a Humvee, as ing market demand both within the EU and
a possible anti-UAV weapon. The company is worldwide. Numerous meetings during the
also working with Boeing on a directed-en- past year have looked at ways to further co-
ergy weapon called Laser Avenger, designed operative development efforts among EU
to detonate IEDs at a distance but also seen as member states and companies. That includes
a way to shoot down or blind enemy UAVs. synchronizing military research funded by the
European Defense Agency with civil security
and other commercial applications supported
CHINA by the European Commission.
One of the few opportunities to see what At the same time, efforts are under way
China is doing in UAVs comes at the annual to implement regulations for UAVs to operate
Air Show China. That was the case at the 7th in the continent’s crowded, multinational air-
Air Show in November 2008, but, as with space—regulations that could benefit EU in-
previous Chinese exhibitions, what was real dustry by limiting the degree to which U.S.-
and what was illusion were difficult to sepa- built UAVs meet the new standards. This is
especially important to both EU and U.S. de-
Wong Long velopers of large platforms such as nEUROn
and Global Hawk, as well as UCAVs, which
are seen as a less expensive route than new
manned fighters to enlarging air attack and air
superiority capabilities. But adequate training
ranges within Europe are severely limited un-
der current flight restrictions.
In January 2008, EDA awarded a €0.5-
million contract to the Air4 All consortium—
rate. Nonetheless, it appeared to show, for comprising more than a dozen of Europe’s
the first time in public, the extent of China’s largest aerospace and defense contractors—
UAV effort—more than a dozen aircraft from to develop a detailed road map for the inte-
multiple state-run manufacturers. gration of UAVs into European airspace by
Those numbers remain hard to validate, the end of 2015 at the latest. The project in-
however. Aerospace America has found refer- volves not just industry but also government
ences, with varying degrees of detail, to 41 air traffic and airworthiness agencies, as well
primary UAVs and variants from 14 different as academic and private research groups, in
manufacturers (including the air force). For an effort to address safety issues for both mil-
this year, however, we could find updated in- itary and commercial UAV operations across
formation on only 23, and little or no verifica- the continent.
tion on the remainder. Meanwhile, as with U.S. programs, Eu-
It also is possible that some of these refer rope’s militaries are finding new uses for the
to one aircraft by multiple names, noting technologies they are receiving and are mak-
slightly different specifications. That also ing ever greater demands
could account for the multiple aircraft with on the R&D community to
pictures or descriptions indicating they are expand those applications.
downsized replicas, at least outwardly, of the One such develop-
U.S. Global Hawk. ment, from Germany’s
EMT Penzberg, is the
VOLANS covert optical
EUROPE airborne reconnaissance
The U.K., France, and Germany continue to naval adapted system, Sperwer-B
lead Europe in the development and produc- which enables a modified


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version of EMT’s Aladin hand-launched MAV

to be catapulted from a submerged subma-
rine. Three MAVs can be packaged into a
pressure-tight tank along with a folding cata-
pult launcher and mounted to a telescoping
multipurpose mast. The submarine need only
rise to periscope depth to lift the launcher
above the surface and get the MAVs airborne.
Signals from the MAVs can be retrieved used by Hezbollah, dismiss their vehicles as
through an antenna, allowing the submarine copies of outdated Italian, South African, and
to extend its sensor range on the surface and Chinese models.
in the air above it while remaining submerged. However, given the secrecy of the Islamic
The MAV could either transmit real-time giant’s internal affairs—and the scientific suc-
data from within a 30-km range, if the sub- cess it claims to be having in other aerospace
marine keeps its communications mast ex- efforts, such as rockets and space launch ve-
tended, or widen its patrol and rendezvous hicles—it would be unwise to dismiss Iran’s
with the boat at a preselected time and loca- UAV programs out of hand.
tion to download stored data, including video. The most prolific of the state-owned
Because the submarine would have to firms, in terms of systems that are known or
surface to recover the drones, they probably believed to be under development or in pro-
would be deployed on one-way missions. And duction, is Qods Aeronautics Industries. It has
any decision to launch the MAVs and risk hav- been credited with multiple variants of the
ing a well-equipped enemy track its broadcast Mohajer (Dorna and Hodhod), Tallash (En-
signal to pinpoint the submarine’s location deavor and Hadaf), and Saeqeh UAVs. An-
would make VOLANS a special-use-only sys- other is HESA, which also produces the Russ-
tem, such as providing a submarine-based ian Antonov An-140 airliner under license. It
special operations team with a current view of is believed to have developed several variants
a target. of the Abadil UAV.
In 2007, Iranian officials, who have made
numerous claims about the country’s UAV ex-
INDIA pertise and reconnaissance flights over U.S.
India has been a major buyer of UAVs, espe- ships in the Persian Gulf, announced develop-
cially from Israeli manufacturers. But govern- ment of a stealth vehicle with a 700-km
ment and military officials also have been range, but little other information is available.
pushing for an increased indigenous capabil-
ity. One way to upgrade the country’s own
technology is through joint development pro-
grams with others, as announced at Aero In- and the
dia 2009 in February. Ashok Baweja, chair of
Hindustan Aeronautics, reported that HAL MIDDLE EAST
and Israeli Aerospace Industries have under- Israel’s list of UAVs matches China’s at 40
taken a joint program to develop helicopter models and variants, from 10 manufacturers—
UAVs. Baweja said one prototype has been but with a significant difference: Most can be
developed for trial, and that India’s navy has fully vetted.
placed an order for eight of the new UAVs. Israeli platforms cover a broad spectrum
India’s primary UAV manufacturer has of sizes, capabilities, and missions, from the
been DRDO, with its mid-size Rustom, Lak- 0.5-kg Mosquito urban MAV to the 4,650-kg
shya, and Nishant/Gagan reconnaissance and medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) mul-
Lashya surveillance platforms.

Iran’s UAV programs also are difficult to ver-
ify, with at least half a dozen companies said
to have developed nearly a dozen vehicles,
most reported to be short-range reconnais-
sance and surveillance models. Some experts
in Israel, which has dealt with Iranian UAVs Skylark


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timission Heron TP, both from IAI. Most Is- One Israeli response has been an in-
raeli manufacturers have at least two UAVs creased program to develop UAV counter-
under development or in production; Elbit measures, something its Arab neighbors also
Systems, IAI, and Aeronautics Defense Sys- would be eager to field.
tems offer at least nine each.
Turkey has developed its own wide range
of UAVs in recent years, most under the ban-
ner of TUSAS Aerospace Industries. And Facing a growing Indian UAV capability, and
while TAI earned its reputation with a series of angry over U.S. UAV operations against al-
small, short-range, low-altitude vehicles, its Qaida and its supporters along the Afghan
principal effort since 2004 has been the border, Pakistan has been seeking to advance
TIHA, a Predator-class MALE intelligence, its own unmanned capabilities, already among
surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnais- the most vigorous in the region.
sance (ISTAR) vehicle, scheduled for first flight More than half a dozen companies are re-
in this year. ported to have at least 30 UAV models under
development or in production. The most ac-
tive is Integrated Dynamics.
All of the known Pakistani UAVs are
small, short-range aircraft, primarily designed
for reconnaissance and surveillance or as aer-
ial targets.

With the rebuilding of Russia’s military forces
in recent years, UAV programs and manufac-
turers have proliferated. These have included
efforts in the Predator class as well as devel-
opment of massive aircraft along the lines of
Global Hawk.
A number of familiar names have joined
Heron the unmanned ranks, including Kamov, Suk-
hoi (responsible for Russia’s largest UAVs),
and Yakovlev.
Also planned to debut this year, according Russia’s most recent UAV deployments
to reports quoting Turkish Defense Minister were during its 2008 invasion of Georgia,
Vecdi Gonul, is a mini that can be carried in a where both sides fielded unmanned systems
soldier’s rucksack and outfitted with day/night and accused each other of using them to trig-
cameras for close- ger combat engagements.
range surveillance. While looking to bolster its own military
Abu Dhabi has capabilities in an area where it has long trailed
joined the race to its Western European neighbors and the U.S.—
field its own Preda- and cognizant of China’s UAV efforts—Russia
tor-class MALE UAV Yablon also sees UAVs as a potentially lucrative ex-
with Adcom Military port market, with a primary customer in India.
Industries’ Yabhon RX-18. The company al-
ready produces two UAVs under the Yabhon Yakovlev Pchela
name—a jet-propelled high-speed diving target
drone (Yabhon HMD) and a piston pusher
prop for long-endurance reconnaissance and
surveillance (Yabhon RX-6).
Although it has no production facilities,
the Lebanese-based Shiite militia Hezbollah
has made considerable news in the past few
years by flying UAVs, believed to be supplied
by Iran, over Israel. Various reports have iden-
tified the Hezbollah vehicles as the Mohajer 4
and Abadil-T.


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gram Review 2009, Navy officials talked

about the prospects of a sixth-generation un-
manned combat air vehicle (UCAV) to supple-
ment and eventually replace the fifth-genera-
tion F-35 aboard carriers. The concept
vehicle for that will be the Northrop Grum-
man X-47B, scheduled to begin carrier-based
launch and recovery flight tests in 2011 and
attempt an autonomous carrier landing
around 2013. The X-47B could stay aloft for
up to 50 hr with a range of 3,000 n.mi. using
autonomous refueling, which is to be tested in
about 2015.
The Navy has no current plans to procure
such a system, but is looking at it as part of an
examination of future “capability gaps.”
UNITED STATES That also applies to the Navy’s broad
area maritime surveillance system (BAMS).
As the U.S. military moves deeper into the Capt. Robert Dishman of the Persistent Mar-
evolving realm of the networked battlespace, itime Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program
attention is turning to the need for better co- Office told AUVSI that BAMS will leverage
ordination of manned and unmanned aircraft. hardware, infrastructure, and expertise from
Some combat pilots in Southwest Asia have across DOD “to provide persistent maritime
referred to the hundreds of UAVs operating in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
the same airspace as “FOD [foreign object de- integral to the Navy’s airborne ISR recapital-
bris] in the sky.” But surpassing the relatively ization strategy,” and that a $1.16-billion de-
remote possibility of a crowded-sky collision is velopment contract awarded to Northrop
the potential of UAVs and manned aircraft Grumman in April 2008 “represents the
working as a team. Navy’s largest investment in unmanned air-
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grum- craft systems to date.”
man have created a joint venture called Long- The BAMS UAV, based on Global Hawk
bow to develop an unmanned tactical com- and its accompanying system, would give the
mon data link assembly, or UTA. It would al- Navy persistent surveillance capability even in
low the crew of an AH-64D Apache Block III a “satellite-denied environment.” That need
attack helicopter to control linked UAVs. The gained importance after a successful Chinese
UTA completed its first powered flight at the antisatellite test in 2007 and Iran’s claim to
end of 2008, successfully acquiring and track- have launched its first indigenously produced
ing an unmanned Little Bird. The UTA is fully satellite. The on-orbit collision in February be-
integrated with the Apache’s display systems, tween a derelict Soviet-era satellite and an op-
allowing the crew to receive and view real- erational Iridium communications spacecraft
time, high-definition streaming video from was an even greater underscore, demonstrat-
UAVs at long distances from the helicopter. ing not just the potential for the direct loss of
At AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems Pro- a satellite but also the continuing danger of
the expanding debris field it created.
But despite the now firmly set inclusion of
UAVs in military planning and operations at
all levels, the realities of a sagging global econ-
omy and pressures to reduce defense spend-
ing are likely to slow what has been a spectac-
ular two-decade record of development and
deployment. The Government Electronics In-
dustry Association (GEIA), for example, pre-
dicts DOD spending on UAVs will decline by
about one-third in the next 10 years. Global
Hawk and Predator currently dominate UAV
spending, and GEIA predicts Global Hawk
and BAMS will be taking the bulk of U.S.
Global Hawk funding by 2019.