Unmanned and unmatched: the world’s deadliest drones
While drones already have a long pedigree in surveillance, a rise in insurgent attacks and an unwillingness to put 'boots on the ground' is resulting in strong demand for drones with advanced direct combat capabilities. Army-technology.com lists five of the world’s deadliest military drones based on armament and combat capabilities.
MQ-8B Fire Scout
Northrop Grumman's battle-proven, unmanned vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft system MQ-8B Fire Scout is designed to deliver intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR), aerial fire support, laser designation and battle management services to tactical military operators. The Fire Scout can be deployed from any air-capable vessel or land base in support of ground, air and sea forces.
The MQ-8B has been deployed in Afghanistan to support counter-IED (improvised explosive device) missions. The drone's stub wings allow the carriage of armament including Hellfire missiles, Viper Strike laser-guided glide weapons, and an Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), a laser-guided 70mm (2.75in) folding-fin rocket. It has a payload capacity of 300lb (136kg), maximum range of 596nm and endurance of 7.75 hours.
MQ-8C, a larger and advanced version of the Fire Scout, is under development for full-scale production in March 2016. The smaller MQ-8B is based on Schweizer 333 light turbine helicopter, whereas the MQ-8C's airframe is based on the Bell 407 civil helicopter.
Predator C Avenger
Predator C Avenger from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is a preferred weapon of choice in 'swarm' tactics due to its lowcost and superior capabilities. The long-endurance, medium-to-high-altitude, remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) system can perform wide-area surveillance and time-sensitive strike missions over both land and sea, as well as a variety of challenging military operations.
The jet-powered aircraft is fitted with a Pratt and Whitney PW545B turbofan engine, which is capable of producing 4,800lb installed thrust and ensuring greater fuel efficiency. It can operate at maximum air speeds of 400KTAS and a maximum altitude of 50,000ft. It has a payload capacity of 3,500lb (1,588kg) and an endurance of 18 hours.
It can carry weapons including Hellfire missiles, GBU-12/49, GBU-31, GBU-32, GBU-38 JDAM, GBU-39 and GBU-16/48. It features greater operational and transit speeds compared with other Predator-series aircraft, which guarantee rapid action and repositioning during missions.
Gray Eagle UAS
Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system (UAS) manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is a key element of the US Army's Aviation Modernisation Plan. Gray Eagle's heavy fuel engine offers increased horsepower and improved fuel efficiency, which lends support to the Army's adage of 'single fuel in the battlefield'. The long-range, long-dwell UAS can be directly controlled by army field commanders.
The drone is an advanced derivative of Predator and is designed to offer superior and reliable tactical solutions for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) and attack operations. The Gray Eagle exhibits maximum speed of 167KTAS and can perform missions at an altitude of 29,000ft. It is capable of carrying internal and external payloads of 1,075lb (488kg) and has an endurance of 25 hours.
The UAS can carry a variety of payloads including electro-optical / infrared (EO / IR) with laser designation, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), communications relay, and four Hellfire missiles. It also features a fault-tolerant control system and triple-redundant avionics system architecture, as well as an automatic takeoff and landing system (ATLS).
MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B)
MQ-9 Reaper from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is used against active execution targets and also as an intelligence collection asset. The significance of the armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude aircraft lies in its ability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets. Features such as significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons make it a preferred weapon in the field. It is used during irregular warfare operations in support of combatant commander objectives.
The turboprop-powered multi-mission aircraft can operate at speeds of 240KTAS at an altitude of 50,000ft. With an endurance of more than 27 hours, MQ-9 Reaper has a payload capacity of 3,850lb (1,746kg). Other features include a fault-tolerant flight control system and triple-redundant avionics system architecture.
The long-endurance, remotely-piloted drone is equipped to carry the multi-spectral targeting system and a laser range finder / designator for laser-guided munitions such as the Guided Bomb Unit-12 Paveway II. It can carry a range of weapons including four laser-guided, air-to-ground missile (AGM)-114 Hellfire missiles, as well as GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions.
Wing Loong II UAV
A medium-altitude long-endurance UAV developed by Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, Wing Loong II is designed for surveillance and aerial reconnaissance operations and is accordingly equipped to carry air-to-surface weapons for use in an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) role. The Wing Loong II UAV is expected to be an integral part of the People's Liberation Army Air Force.
Operated by a single pusher turboprop engine, the drone is equipped to place its satellite communication system and primary optical system in the nose, and employ large V-stabilisers with a smaller vertical stabiliser below the empennage. The Wing Loong II UAV can also be equipped with a forward-looking infrared turret and synthetic aperture radar.
The drone is capable of operating at a maximum speed of 370km/h and can reach an altitude of 30,000ft. Its endurance is 20 hours and payload capacity is 480kg. The range of armaments that can be carried on the drone include the BA-7 air-to-ground missile, YZ-212 laser-guided bomb, YZ-102A anti-personnel bomb and the 50kg LS-6 miniature guided bomb.