News | Dec. 1, 2002

The Emergence of Mini UAVs for Military Applications

By Timothy Coffey and John A. Montgomery Defense Horizons 22


The Emergence of Mini UAVs for Military ApplicationsOverview

The successes of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Afghanistan most likely will accelerate the introduction of UAVs into the military force structure. What emerged in Afghanistan was a tiered observation-detection-targeting system consisting of spacecraft, the Global Hawk UAV, the Predator UAV, and often a spotter on the ground. However, in complex terrain, as in Afghanistan, and in urban situations, airborne assets may be needed much closer to the ground. A low-altitude tier of UAVs— mini UAVs—could serve such a purpose. 

This paper provides a basic understanding of the aerodynamic scaling of mini UAVs and a sense of how their capabilities could be matched with specific missions. Mini UAVs have substantial limitations, but the low radar cross section, low infrared signature, low acoustic signature, and birdlike appearance of these vehicles, combined with the remarkable capabilities of miniaturized payloads, make them contenders for certain missions and potential valuable tactical assets.