Lately air-to-ground strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles (or drone aircraft) have been a big subject in the news. Usually the stories revolve around a UAV strike killing several expected militants or terrorist organization members, but unmanned aerial vehicles have other uses too. In fact, there is great potential within the field of aircraft drones. From combat to air dropping supplies to infantry, unmanned aerial vehicles have a variety of useful roles on the battlefield.
The majority of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles perform reconnaissance, combat, spying, intelligence, or supply roles. Toy RC airplanes can also be considered UAVs but they are not used in combat and therefore will be discounted at this point. Perhaps the most infamous UAV in service currently is the MQ-9 Reaper, a white plane mounted with missiles and in some cases bombs that are often used to destroy targets in Afghanistan.
The key to UAVs is the fact that they are unmanned. Since there is no one flying the plane, there is no need to worry about the pilot. The pilots sit in a control booth with a complex array of controls and plot and control the plane’s every movement. There has been criticism about this stating that it makes war unreal, and that UAV pilots kill people without feeling the full impact of their destruction. UAVs require intense computer and systems knowledge to operate, otherwise they can fail miserably.
The full effects of combat UAVs can be seen in various video clips posted around the internet from the inside of an unmanned combat plane. In one video, several insurgents can be seen wandering over an open space while the plan circles over them. Finally, the screen suddenly flashes black and then white, and when the smoke clears the majority of the moving objects on the black, gray, and white screen have disappeared, leaving only a few survivors to run to a nearby base. The awesome devastation a single missile from an unarmed plane can cause is humbling.
Of course, the primary role of UAVs is reconnaissance. NASA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection even have their own variants of the MQ-9. There are multiple makes, models, sizes, and shapes of recon UAVs, from small planes the size of an RC airplane you could buy at the store in use by the United States Marine Corps to planes even bigger than the reapers that soar over contested land and perform scanning and mapping utilities. Cameras can detect enemies, and various sensors can glean valuable information about the terrain below.
The wonders of robotics in our modern age can be seen everywhere, including in military technology. Another astounding machine used by the United States is a TALON robot, a small treaded robot armed with various weapons and camera systems. Missiles can guide themselves and prevent detonation until a certain point, and automated sentry guns can protect forces against air borne threats. Technology in our day is wonderful, but can also be devastating and awe-inspiring, and new advances are made all the time. The world is rapidly evolving, and our technology and warfare are evolving with it.