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Unmanned combat aerial vehicle

unmanned combat aerial vehicle, the first unmanned combat aerial vehicle
An unmanned combat aerial vehicle UCAV, also known as a combat drone or simply a drone, is an unmanned aerial vehicle UAV that usually carries aircraft ordnance such as missiles1 Aircraft of this type have no onboard human pilot2 These drones are usually under real-time human control, with varying levels of autonomy3 They are used in drone strikes4

Equipment necessary for a human pilot such as the cockpit, armor, ejection seat, flight controls, and environmental controls for pressure and oxygen are not needed, as the operator runs the vehicle from a remote terminal, resulting in a lower weight and a smaller size than a manned aircraft

While several nations possess and manufacture unarmed UAV, only the United States, Israel, Italy, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey5 are at present known to have manufactured operational UCAV as of December 20156


  • 1 History
  • 2 Future models
    • 21 Overview
    • 22 BAE Taranis
    • 23 J-UCAS
    • 24 N-UCAS
    • 25 USAF Hunter-Killer
    • 26 Elbit Hermes 450
  • 3 Users
  • 4 Laws and ethics of war
    • 41 Stand-off attacks
    • 42 Autonomous attacks
    • 43 Civilian casualties
      • 431 Israel
      • 432 United States
    • 44 Psychological impact on pilots
  • 5 Political and personal effects
  • 6 Public opinion summary
  • 7 Drone carrier ships
  • 8 See also
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links


Main article: History of unmanned combat aerial vehicles

One of the earliest explorations of the concept of the combat drone was by Lee De Forest, an early inventor of radio devices, and U A Sanabria, a TV engineer They presented their idea in an article in a 1940 publication of Popular Mechanics7 The modern military drone as known today was the brainchild of John Stuart Foster Jr, a nuclear physicist and former head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory then called the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory8 In 1971, Foster was a model airplane hobbyist and had the idea this hobby could be applied to building weapons8 He drew up plans and by 1973 DARPA Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency built two prototypes called "Praeire" and "Calere" They were powered by a modified lawn-mower engine and could stay aloft for two hours while carrying 28-pounds of load8

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel used unarmed US Ryan Firebee target drones to spur Egypt into firing its entire arsenal of anti-aircraft missiles This mission was accomplished with no injuries to Israeli pilots, who soon exploited the depleted Egyptian defenses In the late 1970s and 80s, Israel developed the Scout and the Pioneer, which represented a shift toward the lighter, glider-type model of UAV in use today Israel pioneered the use of unmanned aerial vehicles UAVs for real-time surveillance, electronic warfare, and decoys91011 The images and radar decoying provided by these UAVs helped Israel to completely neutralize the Syrian air defenses in Operation Mole Cricket 19 at the start of the 1982 Lebanon War, resulting in no pilots downed12

In the late 1980s, Iran deployed a drone armed with six RPG-7 rounds in the Iran–Iraq War13

Impressed by Israel's success, the US quickly acquired a number of UAVs, and its Hunter and Pioneer systems are direct derivatives of Israeli models The first 'UAV war' was the first Gulf War: according to a May 1991 Department of the Navy report: "At least one UAV was airborne at all times during Desert Storm" After the Gulf War successfully demonstrated their utility, global militaries invested widely in the domestic development of combat UAVs14 The first "kill" by an American UAV was on October 7, 2001 in Kandahar15

In recent years the US has increased its use of drone strikes against targets in foreign countries and elsewhere as part of the War on Terror In January 2014, it was estimated that 2,400 people have died from US drone strikes in five years16 In June 2015 the total death toll of US drone strikes was estimated to exceed 6,00017

Future modelsedit

A BAE Raven during flight testing The EADS Barracuda on the Manching Air Base in Germany Drone coaxial helicopter with 30mm chain gun


Note: Some of these are not aircraft prototypes but technology demonstrators TD that are not expected to enter service

Name Manufacturers Developing nations
A-10PCAS Elbit Systems Israel
Sky-X TD Alenia Aeronautica Italy
Selex ES Falco Selex ES Italy
Eitan Israel Aerospace Industries Israel
Harop Israel Aerospace Industries Israel
AVIC 601-S Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute China
AURA Defence Research and Development Organisation India
Taranis TD BAE Systems United Kingdom
Dassault nEUROn TD Dassault Aviation
  • France
  • Sweden
  • Italy
  • Greece
  • Spain
Rustom Defence Research and Development Organisation India
Avenger General Atomics Aeronautical Systems United States
TERN Northrop Grumman United States
X-47A TD/B TD/C Northrop Grumman United States
Armstechno Dulo TD Armstechno Bulgaria
Bateleur TD Denel Dynamics South Africa
Anka-TP SIHA Turkish Aerospace Industries Turkey
Bayraktar TB2 Kale-Baykar Turkey
Cardinal Mini Unmanned Aircraft System National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology Taiwan
Albatross Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology Taiwan
Vestel Karayel Vestel Savunma AS18 Turkey
Burraq19 NESCOM Pakistan
GIDS Shahpar GIDS Pakistan
GIDS Uqab NESCOM Pakistan
Ra'd20 Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran Iran
Karrar21 Iran Iran
Sofreh Mahi22 Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company Iran
Fotros Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company - Capable of long missions Iran
Shahed 12923 Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center Iran
Barracuda TD EADS
  • Germany
  • Spain
Skat24 Mikoyan Russia

Various Chinese UCAV concepts have also materializedcitation needed WZ-2000, UCAV versions of the Xianglong high altitude are long endurance UAV Also, dedicated UCAV's Shenyang's Dark Sword Anjian, and also revealed at Zhuhai 2008 was a model of a stealth strike UCAV with forward swept wings, filling a similar niche to US X-45 called the Warrior Eagle

BAE Taranisedit

BAE Taranis model, one of the largest design concepts Main article: BAE Taranis

Taranis is a British demonstrator programme for unmanned combat air vehicle UCAV technology It is part of the UK's Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle Experimental programme SUAVE BAE describes Taranis's role in this context as following: "This £124m four year programme is part of the UK Government's Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle Experiment SUAVE and will result in a UCAV demonstrator with fully integrated autonomous systems and low observable features" The Taranis demonstrator will have an MTOW Maximum Takeoff Weight of about 8000 kilograms and be of comparable size to the BAE Hawk – making it one of the world's largest UAVs It will be stealthy, fast, and able to deploy a range of munitions over a number of targets, as well as being capable of defending itself against manned and other unmanned enemy aircraft The first steel was cut in September 2007 and ground testing started in early 2009 The first flight of the Taranis took place in August 2013 in Woomera, Australia25 The demonstrator will have two internal weapons bays With the inclusion of "full autonomy" the intention is thus for this platform to be able to "think for itself" for a large part of the missioncitation needed


J-UCAS Boeing X-45A UCAV technology demonstrator Main article: Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems
  • Boeing X-45 UCAV TD
  • Northrop-Grumman X-47 Pegasus

Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems, or J-UCAS, was the name for the joint US Navy/US Air Force unmanned combat air vehicle procurement project J-UCAS was managed by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency In the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the J-UCAS program was terminated26 The program would have used stealth technologies and allowed UCAVs to be armed with precision-guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munition JDAM or precision miniature munitions, such as the Small-Diameter Bomb, which are used to suppress enemy air defenses Controllers could have used real-time data sources, including satellites, to plan for and respond to changes on and around the battlefield

The program was later revitalized into UCAS-D, a United States Navy program designed to develop a carrier-based unmanned aircraft27


UCAS-D and Northrop Grumman X-47B are the US Navy-only successors to the J-UCAS, which was cancelled in 2006 Boeing is also working on the X-45N in this sector

In a New Year 2011 editorial titled "China's Naval Ambitions", The New York Times said "the Pentagon must accelerate efforts to make American naval forces in Asia less vulnerable to Chinese missile threats by giving them the means to project their deterrent power from further offshore Cutting back purchases of the Navy's DDG-1000 destroyer with its deficient missile defense system was a first step A bigger one would be to reduce the Navy's reliance on short-range manned strike aircraft like the F-18 and the F-35, in favor of the carrier-launched N-UCAS "28

On 6 January 2011, the DOD announced that this would be one area of additional investment in the 2012 budget request29

USAF Hunter-Killeredit

Main article: USAF Hunter-Killer
  • Scaled Composites Model 395
  • Scaled Composites Model 396
  • General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper originally the Predator B
  • Aurora Flight Sciences/Israel Aircraft Industries Eagle/Heron 2
  • Unnamed Lockheed Martin entry

The United States Air Force has shifted its UCAV program from medium-range tactical strike aircraft to long-range strategic bombers26 The technology of the Long Range Strike program is based on the Lockheed Martin Polecat demonstrator

Elbit Hermes 450edit

Main article: Elbit Hermes 450

The Israeli Air Force, which operates a squadron of Hermes 450s out of Palmachim Airbase south of Tel Aviv, has adapted the Hermes 450 for use as an assault UAV, reportedly equipping it with two Hellfire missiles or, according to various sources, two Rafael-made missiles According to Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese and independent reports, the Israeli assault UAV has seen extensive service in the Gaza Strip and was used intensively in the Second Lebanon War Israel has not denied this capability, but to date, its policy has been not to officially confirm it eithercitation needed


Countries with known operational armed drones:

  •  Azerbaijan - IAI Harop
  •  Botswana - Elbit Hermes 450
  •  Brazil - Elbit Hermes 450, IAI Heron
  •  Colombia - Elbit Hermes 450
  •  Chile - Elbit Hermes 900
  •  China - Guizhou WZ-2000, Chengdu Wing Loong I, CH-3, CH-4, CH-5
  •  Croatia - Elbit Hermes 450
  •  Cyprus - Elbit Hermes 450
  •  Egypt - CAIG Wing Loong,30 CASC Rainbow31
  •  France - EADS Harfang based on the IAI Heron, SAGEM Sperwer, General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper "F"
  •  Germany - Modified IAI Heron from Israel32
  •  Georgia - Elbit Hermes 450, Elbit Skylark
  •  India - IAI Heron, IAI Harop and IAI Harpy from Israel,33 DRDO AURA, DRDO RustomUnder development34
  •  Iran - Karrar, Shahed 129, Fotros and others
  •  Ireland - Aeronautics Orbiter UAV, number: 3+ Used in Irish Army duties There is no evidence of using Armed drones by Irish armycitation needed
  •  Israel - IAI Heron, IAI Harpy, Elbit Hermes 450, IAI Eitan, IAI Harop
  •  Italy - MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper from the US and P1 HH Hammerhead from the Italycitation needed
  •  Mexico - Elbit Hermes 450
  •  Netherlands - MQ-9 Reaper
  •  North Korea - MQM-107-based flying bombs35
  •  Pakistan - UCAV Burraq, GIDS Shahpar, Falco UAV from Italy
  •  Palestine - Two types of operational drones developed from Iranian Ababil-1 drone3637
  •  Singapore - Elbit Hermes 450
  •  Spain - IAI Searcher, Skeldar V-200, RQ-11 Raven, INTA SIVA, INTA Milano, EADS ATLANTE
  •  Taiwan - The Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology CSIST is developing a defending and attack UCAV based on the US X-47B3839
  •  Tunisia - TATI Buraq, TATI Jinn Under Development40
  •  Turkey - TAI Anka, BAYKAR Bayraktar TB2,41 Vestel Karayel UCAV4243
  •  United Kingdom - MQ-9 Reaper,44 Elbit Hermes 450
  •  United States - MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, Elbit Hermes 450

Laws and ethics of waredit

See also: Targeted killing

UAVs face multiple ethical issues

Stand-off attacksedit

The "unmanned" aspect of armed UAVs has raised moral concerns about their use in combat and law enforcement contexts Attacking humans with remote-controlled machines is even more abstract than the use of other "stand-off" weaponry, such as missiles, artillery and aerial bombardment, possibly depersonalizing the decision to attack By contrast, UAVs and other stand-off systems reduce casualties among the attackers45

Autonomous attacksedit

The picture is further complicated if the UAV can initiate an attack autonomously, without direct human involvement Such UAVs could possibly react more quickly and without bias, but would lack human sensibility46 Heather Roffclarification needed replies that LARs may not be appropriate for complex conflicts and targeted populations would likely react angrily against them46 Will McCants argues that the public would be more outraged by machine failures than human error, making LARs politically implausible46 According to Mark Gubrud, claims that drones can be hacked are overblown and misleading and moreover, drones are more likely to be hacked if they're autonomous, because otherwise the human operator would take control: "Giving weapon systems autonomous capabilities is a good way to lose control of them, either due to a programming error, unanticipated circumstances, malfunction, or hack and then not be able to regain control short of blowing them up, hopefully before they've blown up too many other things and people"47

Civilian casualtiesedit

See also: Civilian casualties from US drone strikes


In March 2009, The Guardian reported allegations that Israeli UAVs armed with missiles killed 48 Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, including two small children in a field and a group of women and girls in an otherwise empty street48 In June, Human Rights Watch investigated six UAV attacks that were reported to have resulted in civilian casualties and alleged that Israeli forces either failed to take all feasible precautions to verify that the targets were combatants or failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians495051

United Statesedit

Main article: Civilian casualties from US drone strikes

Collateral damage of civilians still takes place with drone combat, although some like John O Brennan have argued that it greatly reduces the likelihood52 Although drones enable advance tactical surveillance and up-to-the-minute data, flaws can become apparent53 The US drone program in Pakistan has killed several dozen civilians accidentally54 An example is the operation in 2010 Feb near Khod, in Urozgan Province, Afghanistan Over ten civilians in a three-vehicle convoy travelling from Daykundi Province were accidentally killed after a drone crew misidentified the civilians as hostile threats A force of Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopters, who were attempting to protect ground troops fighting several kilometers away, fired AGM-114 Hellfire missiles at the vehicles5556

In 2009, Brookings Institution reported that in the US-led drone attacks in Pakistan, ten civilians died for every militant killed5758 A former ambassador of Pakistan said that American UAV attacks were turning Pakistani opinion against the United States59 The website PakistanBodyCountOrg reported 1,065 civilian deaths between 2004 and 201060 According to a 2010 analysis by the New America Foundation 114 UAV-based missile strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 killed between 830 and 1,210 individuals, around 550 to 850 of whom were militants61 In October 2013 the Pakistani government revealed that since 2008 317 drone strikes had killed 2,160 Islamic militants and 67 civilians – far less than previous government and independent organization calculations62

In July 2013, former Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson said, on a panel at the Aspen Institute's Security Forum, that he felt an emotional reaction upon reading Nasser al-Awlaki's account of how his 16-year-old grandson was killed by a US drone63

In December 2013, a US drone strike in Radda, capital of Yemen's Bayda province, killed members of a wedding party64 The following February, Human Rights Watch published a 28-page report reviewing the strike and its legality, among other things Titled "A Wedding That Became A Funeral", the report concludes that some but not necessarily all of the casualties were civilians, not the intended regional Al-Qaeda targets The organization demanded US and Yemeni investigations into the attack In its research, HRW "found no evidence that the individuals taking part in the wedding procession posed an imminent threat to life In the absence of an armed conflict, killing them would be a violation of international human rights law"65

Psychological impact on pilotsedit

Controllers can also experience psychological stress from the combat they are involved in A few may even experience posttraumatic stress disorder PTSD6667 There are even some reports of drone pilots struggling with post traumatic stress disorder after they have killed civilians, especially children Unlike bomber pilots, moreover, drone operators linger long after the explosives strike and see its effects on human bodies in stark detail The intense training that US drone operators undergo "works to dehumanise the ‘enemy’ people below whilst glorifying and celebrating the killing process"68

Professor Shannon E French, the director of the Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University and a former professor at the US Naval Academy, wonders if the PTSD may be rooted in a suspicion that something else was at stake According to Professor French, the author of the 2003 book The Code of the Warrior:69

If I'm in the field risking and taking a life, there's a sense that I'm putting skin in the game … I'm taking a risk so it feels more honorable Someone who kills at a distance—it can make them doubt Am I truly honorable

The Missile Technology Control Regime applies to UCAVs

On 28 October 2009, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, presented a report to the Third Committee social, humanitarian and cultural of the General Assembly arguing that the use of unmanned combat air vehicles for targeted killings should be regarded as a breach of international law unless the United States can demonstrate appropriate precautions and accountability mechanisms are in place70

In June 2015 forty-five former US military personnel issued a joint appeal to pilots of aerial drones operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere urging them to refuse to fly and indicated that their missions "profoundly violate domestic and international laws" They noted that these drone attacks also undermine principles of human rights17

Political and personal effectsedit

As a new weapon, drones are having unforeseen political effects Some scholars have argued that the extensive use of drones will undermine the popular legitimacy of local governments, which are blamed for permitting the strikes The case study for this analysis is Yemen, where drone strikes seem to be increasing resentment against the Yemeni government as well as against the US71

Some leaders worry about the effect drone warfare will have on soldiers' psychology Keith Shurtleff, an army chaplain at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, worries "that as war becomes safer and easier, as soldiers are removed from the horrors of war and see the enemy not as humans but as blips on a screen, there is very real danger of losing the deterrent that such horrors provide"72 Similar worries surfaced when "smart" bombs began to be used extensively in the First Gulf War

There are new case studies that are examining the psychological effects drones have on the citizens on the ground Peter Schaapveld, a forensic psychologist, conducted research in Yemen on the psychological effects of drones He found that "92 percent of the population sample he examined was found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – with children being the demographic most significantly affected"73 Psychologists in Gaza, meanwhile, talk of a whole generation of Gazan children suffering deep psychological trauma because of the continual exposure to the buzzing sounds of drones high above, machines that can spit lethal violence upon them and their families at any moment Stanford’s ‘Living Under Drones’ researchers, meanwhile, have shown that civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan are reluctant to help those hit by the first strikes because rescuers themselves have often been killed by follow-on drone strikes Injured relatives in the rubble of the first strike have been known to tell their relatives not to help rescue them because of the frequency of these so-called ‘double-tap’ strikes People also avoid gathering in groups in visible places Many children are permanently kept indoors and often no longer go to school68

Writer Mark Bowden has disputed this viewpoint saying in his The Atlantic article, "But flying a drone, the pilot sees the carnage close-up, in real time—the blood and severed body parts, the arrival of emergency responders, the anguish of friends and family Often he’s been watching the people he kills for a long time before pulling the trigger Drone pilots become familiar with their victims They see them in the ordinary rhythms of their lives—with their wives and friends, with their children War by remote control turns out to be intimate and disturbing Pilots are sometimes shaken"74

This assessment is corroborated by a sensor operator’s account:

The smoke clears, and there’s pieces of the two guys around the crater And there’s this guy over here, and he’s missing his right leg above his knee He’s holding it, and he’s rolling around, and the blood is squirting out of his leg … It took him a long time to die I just watched him

— Airman First Class Brandon Bryant whistleblower in GQ75

Back in the United States, a combination of "lower-class" status in the military, overwork, and psychological trauma may be taking a mental toll on drone pilots These psychological, cultural and career issues appear to have led to a shortfall in USAF drone operators, which is seen as a "dead end job"7677

Public opinion summaryedit

Main article: Public opinion about US drone attacks

In 2013 a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll asked registered voters whether they "approve or disapprove of the US Military using drones to carry out attacks abroad on people and other targets deemed a threat to the US" The results showed that three in every four 75% of voters approved of the US Military using drones to carry out attacks, while 13% disapproved78 A poll conducted by the Huffington Post in 2013 also showed a majority supporting targeted killings using drones, albeit by a smaller margin79 A 2015 poll showed Republicans and men are more likely to support US drone strikes, while Democrats and Independents, women, young people, and minorities are less supportive80

Outside America there is widespread opposition to US drone killings A July 2014 report found a majority or plurality of respondents in 39 of 44 countries surveyed opposed US drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia The US, Kenya, and Israel were the only countries where at least half the public supported drone strikes Venezuela was found to be the most anti-drone country, where 92% of respondents disagreed with US drone strikes, followed closely by Jordan, where 90% disagreed; Israel was shown as the most pro-drone, with 65% in favor of US drone strikes and 27% opposed8182

Drone carrier shipsedit

Aerial aircraft carrier drone

In March 2013, DARPA began efforts to develop a fleet of small naval vessels capable of launching and retrieving combat drones without the need for large and expensive aircraft carriers83

In November 2014, the Pentagon made an open request for ideas on how to build a flying aircraft carrier that can launch and retrieve drones using existing military aircraft such as the B-1, B-52 or C-13084

See alsoedit

  • Aviation portal
  • Robotics portal
  • Boeing Phantom Ray
  • Drone attacks in Pakistan
  • Drone attacks in Yemen
  • Civilian casualties from US drone strikes
  • History of unmanned aerial vehicles
  • List of unmanned aerial vehicles
  • List of unmanned aerial vehicles of China
  • Moral injury
  • Remote Control War 2011, documentary
  • UAVs in the US military
  • UXV Combatant – A proposal for a ship dedicated to UCAVs being designed for the Royal Navy


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  71. ^ Smith, Jordan Michael 5 September 2012 "Drone "blowback" is real A new analysis finds five ways drone strikes in Yemen are hurting American interests" Saloncom Retrieved 8 September 2012 
  72. ^ Cole, Jim and Chris Wright "Drone Wars UK" January 2010 http://dronewarsukwordpresscom/aboutdrone/
  73. ^ Salama, Vivian "Death From Above: How American Drone Strikes Are Devastating Yemen" April 2014 http://wwwrollingstonecom/politics/news/death-from-above-how-american-drone-strikes-are-devastating-yemen-20140414#ixzz3YocHjBIz
  74. ^ Mark Bowden "The Killing Machines – Mark Bowden" The Atlantic Retrieved 2013-09-22 
  75. ^ "Confessions of a Drone Warrior" GQ Retrieved 5 October 2014 
  76. ^ Chatterjee, Pratap March 2015 Is Drone Warfare Fraying at the Edges "Are Pilots Deserting Washington's Remote-Control War A New Form of War May Be Producing a New Form of Mental Disturbance"
  77. ^ 8/21/13 5:44pm 8/21/13 5:44pm "Nobody Wants to Fly Air Force Drones Because It's a Dead End Job" Gizmodocom Retrieved 2013-09-22 
  78. ^ Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind, February 7, 2013 Public says it's illegal to target Americans abroad as some question CIA drone attacks press release
  79. ^ "Drone Program Poll: The Public Does Not Uncritically Embrace Targeted Killings" The Huffington Post 15 February 2013 Retrieved 5 October 2014 
  80. ^ "Public Continues to Back US Drone Attacks" Pew Research Center 28 May 2015 Retrieved 12 April 2016 
  81. ^ "US Use of Drones, Under New Scrutiny, Has Been Widely Opposed Abroad" Pew Research Center 6 February 2013 Retrieved 5 October 2014 
  82. ^ "Global Opposition to US Surveillance and Drones, but Limited Harm to America's Image" Pew Research Center 14 July 2014 Retrieved 12 April 2016 
  83. ^ "Darpa looks to use small ships as drone bases" BBC 4 March 2013 Retrieved 4 March 2013 
  84. ^ CNN, Brad Lendon "Pentagon wants ideas for flying aircraft carrier" 

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