posted on Mar, 26 2006 @ 07:29 AM
I am by no stretch of imagination the UAV expert among the forum regulars. But I do have an interest in them and they are somewhat overlooked as less
sexy than their manned brothers, so I am all for raising awareness of unmanned air vehicles. Dependant on feedback, I’m hoping to present a series
of articles describing, analyzing and cataloging UAVs with an obvious bias towards current and future projects.
This is the first installment and will hopefully describe the general classes of UAV and their roles. The first barrier is jargon; there are numerous
commonly used acronyms and terms which are commonly used, some describing the size of the air vehicle, others its role.
The main classes of UAV are:
HALE: High Altitude Long Endurance. These are typically strategic reconnaissance types such as Global Hawk and Dark
Star. The only type operation in substantial numbers within this growing category is the Global Hawk although there are numerous scientific and
experimental types flying.
Example HALE UAVs:
*Global Hawk, USA
*Dark Star, USA (cancelled)
*Zond-1, Russia (under development)
*WZ 2000, China (under development)
*Hermes 1500, Israel
MALE: Medium Altitude Long Endurance. These are the top-end tactical systems like the US Predator and Israeli
Hermes 450 systems. They typically operate at between 20-30,000ft where they are less susceptible to low-tech air defences and are increasing
encroaching on the HALE territory. Unlike the smaller TUAV systems (see below) they can carry satellite communications to allow long range control,
and various radar sensors in addition to the more typical optical/IR sensors.
Example MALE UAVs:
*Hermes 450 (/WK450), Israel (/UK)
*Heron (/Eagle), Israel (/France)
*Herti, UK (experimental)
*Bateleur, S.Africa (under development)
TUAV: By far the largest category of UAVs, Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicles are widely operated. These aircraft are
smaller than the MALE/HALE types and are typically limited to operating about 100-200km from their base station (control unit) due to the lack of
satellite datalinks (the same is true of some MALE/HALE platforms). Typical operating heights are between 1,000-15,000ft, where they are comparatively
susceptible to ground fire. Typical roles include artillery spotting, post-strike damage assessment and general tactical reconnaissance.
*Blue Horizon 2, Israel
Micro/mini UAVs: Really just a sub-category of TUAVs, these are designed to be as small as possible to allow hand launch by infantry. Typical
applications are as localized reconnaissance, often limited to line of sight (LOS) ranges.
Example Mini UAVs:
*Skylark (…both), Israel
Example Micro UAVs
UCAV: Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles are basically UAVs armed with various weapons. The majority of programs involve
stealthy jet powered air vehicles designed for penetration strike, although a number of lower tech close-support types have been designed. Some UCAVs
are often described as Weaponized UAVs because they involve weaponizing surveillance UAVs rather than a dedicated new design – and because of
their surveillance heritage, these designs tend to be limited in the penetration strike role.
Example UCAV programs:
*X45-X47 (J-UCAS), USA
Example Weaponized UAVs:
Other commonly used terms include Drone which typically means (at least in the English speaking world) a pre-programmed flightpath design
rather than a remotely piloted design. Drones were the first class of UAV to be widely used and were sometimes conversions of target drones used for
strategic reconnaissance. Early drones were large although more recent designs are far smaller – having said that drones have proved relatively easy
to shoot down and have generally fallen from favor. One exception is the Decoy drones and Attack drones which combine UAV and cruise
missile characteristics, the significant difference with other UAVs being that these two classes are not designed to return to base after a successful
Example surveillance Drones:
*Tu-143, USSR (/Russia)
Example Decoy Drones:
Example Attack Drones:
Another separation often made is between VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing types and conventional types – the former
being typically employed onboard naval vessels. Having said that, most smaller TUAVs and even some MALE types are often launched by catapult and
recovered by parachute or net, meaning that they do not require conventional runways.
Example VTOL UAVs:
*CL-227 Sentinel, Canada
*Haiou, China (under development)
[edit on 26-3-2006 by planeman]