12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (2022)

Military drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are a true game-changer in military operations.

Drones offer many advantages over traditional warfare tactics with the ultimate goal of reducing soldier fatalities.

Though there is plenty of controversy regarding the government use of military drones it is not something that is going away.

Global spending on unmanned aerial vehicles is expected to nearly reach $100 billion in the coming decade.

Learn more about drones the military currently uses and reasons why UAV operators will continue to be in high demand in the future.

Related Article: Which Branch Of The Military Should I Join? 7 Things To Consider

Table of Contents

Why The Sudden Explosion of Military Drones?

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (1)

The U.S. government has experimented with advanced weapons that could be used on the battlefield for decades.

Gaining any advantage on the battlefield is fundamental to survival and winning wars.

The most profound innovation in military warfare in the last several decades, if not the last century, is the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have powerful capabilities when it comes to surveillance and reconnaissance.

Furthermore, military drones are capable of sending missiles or bombs in drone strikes.

The primary advantage of UAVs is that the device does not need an onboard human pilot.

Consequently, the U.S. Military has relied upon drones for several coordinated attacks that in the past would have required more soldiers on the ground.

The Military Drone Controversy

The theory is that drones can save military lives yet there are plenty of critics that add they also take innocent lives in the process.

Settling the drone controversy is a subject for another article, so in this one, we will focus on the specific types of UAVs the military currently uses on the battlefield.

The U.S. government is the largest leading in military drone spending with an estimated $2.2 billion currently dedicated to UAVs.

By the end of the decade, the U.S. government currently plans to spend close to $3 Billion on military drones.

It’s also estimated that the government has several more billions in UAV spending that do not get reported because of classified programs.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles is skyrocketing with no end in sight.

After learning about the military UAVs listed (below) you also may want to consider what it takes to become an operator for the Army or Marines.

1. Avenger (General Atomics)

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (2)

Fast Facts: 460 mph (max speed), 402 mph (cruise speed), 18 hours of endurance
Cost: $12-$15 Million
Dimensions: 44′ x 66′
Range: 15,240 miles
First flight: 2009

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The Avenger by General Atomics supports a ground control crew of two members.

The military drone is primarily used by the Air Force.

It is powered by a turbofan engine unlike previous models like the MQ-9 Reaper.

Updates on the Avenger enable it to support internal weapons storage and reduce trails of it being in the air.

After a successful first flight in 2009, the General Atomics Avenger was deployed to Afghanistan.

2. AAI RQ-7

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (3)

Fast Facts: 130 mph (max speed), 81 mph (cruise speed), 6/9 hours endurance
Cost: $15.5 Million
Dimensions: 11’2″ x 14″
Range: 68 miles
First flight: 1991

The AAI RQ-7 Shadow is primarily for the U.S. Army offering reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities.

The UAV is launched from a trailer-mounted catapult and requires arresting gear on an aircraft to recover the device.

Army troops have sought an effective battlefield drone since the cancellation of the Alliant RQ-6 Outrider.

The impressive range of the smaller drone helps support Army operations though it is restricted in bad weather conditions.

3. Northrop Grumman X-47A

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (4)

Fast Facts: 4,877 lb (max weight), 5,903 lb. (max takeoff weight), 40,000 feet (service ceiling)
Cost: N/A
Dimensions: 30′ x 28′
Range: 1,700 miles
First flight: 2003

Northrop Grumman X-47 serves as a demonstration UAV.

The Navy version is known as the X-47B while the original drone is called the X-47A Pegasus.

The U.S. Navy is among the last branches to get on board with incorporating military drones into operations.

Northrop Grumman X-47 is a demonstrater drone after a successful first launch in the early-2000s.

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (5)

4. MQ-9 Reaper

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (6)

Fast Facts: 300 mph (max speed), 194 mph (cruise speed), 14 hours endurance
Cost: $15.9 Million
Dimensions: 36′ x 65′
Range: 1,200 miles
First flight: 2001

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (also called Predator B) is one of the most popular military drones.

The United States Air Force primarily uses the MQ-9 Reaper though it is also used by the Navy, CIA, and NASA.

It is considered the first “hunter-killer UAV” with a design that promotes high altitude and long endurance missions.

The MQ-9 Reaper made headlines in 2008 when it was announced the Air National Guard in New York was beginning a transition from converting F-16 pilot fighters to Mq-9A operators.

There are plans to keep the MQ-9 Reaper in service until the 2030s due to its outstanding and dependable operation.

5. MQ-1 Predator

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (7)

Fast Facts: 135 mph (max speed), 81 mph (cruise speed), 24 hours endurance
Cost: $4 Million
Dimensions: 27′ x 48’7″
Range: 777 miles
First flight: 1994

General Atomics has another offering with the MQ-1 Predator which is primarily used by the Air Force and CIA.

The MQ-1 Predator is one of the original military drones with an initial conception in the early 1990s.

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The military set out to produce an aerial reconnaissance UAV with high powered cameras and other sensors.

A final design is so effective that the MQ-1 Predator has seen combat in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Serbia, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia.

The drone is considered a “Tier II” MALE UAS which means it provides medium-altitude, long-endurance capabilities.

It was retired in 2018 after years of service with the MQ-9 Reaper taking over several of its former operations.

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6. MQ-8 Fire Scout

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (8)

Fast Facts: 115 knots (max speed), 110 knots (cruise speed), 8 hours of endurance
Cost: $14.6 Million
Dimensions: 24′ (length), wingspan unspecified
Range: 50 miles
First flight: 2000

The Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout is for reconnaissance, aerial fire support, precision targeting support, and situational awareness.

The U.S. Navy embraced the design of the MQ-8 Fire Scout after initially not being blown away by early versions.

It features a four-blade main rotor different from the RQ-8A UAV.

The design reduces noise and improves lift capacity for reconnaissance work.

Several upgrades have improved the overall functionality of the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout.

7. RQ-4

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (9)

Fast Facts: 391 mph (max speed), 357 mph (cruise speed), 32+ hours endurance
Cost: $223 Million
Dimensions: 47’7″ x 131′
Range: 14,154 miles
First flight: 1998

Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk serves as a high altitude UAV for the Air Force.

It delivers systematic surveillance with high altitude radar and long-range infrared sensors.

The military drone is capable of surveying an impressive 40,000 square miles of terrain each day.

To put it in perspective that is the area of Iceland or South Korea.

8. RQ-11 Raven

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (10)

Fast Facts: 18.64 mph (cruising speed), 60-90 minutes endurance, 4.2 lbs.
Cost: $173,000
Dimensions: 3′ x 4.5′
Range: 6.2 miles
First flight: 2001

The RQ-11 Raven is a short distance and slow-moving military drone yet it offers several advantages based on its sleek and unassuming design.

Several branches of the military use the RQ-11 Raven including the Air Force and Marine Corps.

It is launched by hand and powered with a pusher configuration electric motor.

The RQ-11 Raven can soar to altitudes 500 feet above the ground and over 15,000 feet above sea level.

The Raven UAV is a fitting company-level device with cruise speeds between 30-60 mph.

9. RQ-12 Wasp

Fast Facts: 40 mph (max speed), 0.95 lbs (weight)
Cost: $49,000
Dimensions: 1.25′ x 2.3′
Range: 3 miles
First flight: 2007

Another lightweight and simple drone is the RQ-12 Wasp.

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The miniature UAV has the tiny dimensions of a little over one foot long by two feet wide.

The U.S. Air Force likes using the RQ-12 Wasp for beyond-line-of-sight situation awareness.

It offers two onboard cameras delivering real-time intelligence to the operator.

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (11)

10. RQ-20 Puma

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (12)

Fast Facts: 52 mph (max speed, 23 mph (cruise speed), 2 hours endurance
Cost: $250,000
Dimensions: 4’7″ x 9’2″
Range: 9.3 miles
First flight: 2007

AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma is a small, compact UAV that is battery powered.

The military drone is hand-launched with a small range of a little under ten miles in distance.

The compact UAV is for surveillance and intelligence gathering thanks to its infrared and electro-optical camera.

Army, Marine, and Air Force operations all depend on the RQ-20 Puma for surveillance.

It is able to operate even in extreme weather conditions which adds value to the UAV.

11. RQ-21 Blackjack

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (13)

Fast Facts: 100 mph (max speed), 63 mph (cruise speed), 16 hours endurance
Cost: $5.3 Million
Dimensions: 8′ x 16′
Range: 58 miles
First flight: 2012

Boeing Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack, also known as the Integrator, is for the U.S. Navy.

The small drone offers a twin-boom, single-engine monoplane for operation.

It is relatively new having taken its first flight in 2012.

The RQ-21 Blackjack got selected by the Marine Corps over other military drones at the time competing for the attention of the branch.

Its forward reconnaissance capabilities is instrumental to Marine operations.

12. RQ-170 Sentinel

12 Military Drones Employed By The US Military - Operation Military Kids (14)

Fast Facts: General Electric TF34 Turbofan with three-member ground crew
Cost: N/A
Dimensions: 14’9″ x 65’7″
Range: N/A
First flight: 2007

The Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel is for the Air Force and CIA.

Unfortunately, there are not many details regarding the design or specifications of the RQ-170 Sentinel.

The information remains confidential since the UAV is stealth aircraft fitted with aerial reconnaissance equipment.

Experts say the RQ-170 Sentinel is comparable to the RQ-3 DarkStar and Polecat versions.

The military drone does not carry weapons making it exclusively used for stealth operations.

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Conclusion

Military drones serve an increasingly important role on the battlefield.

The U.S. government is reducing fewer ground troops (and ideally saving more lives) by implementing UAVs in the line of fire as opposed to ‘boots on the ground’.

(Video) WikiLeaks video 'shows US attack'

The future of military operations seems destined to get fought with machines like drones instead of human lives.

Do you think that’s a good or bad thing? What is your personal take on using UAVs for military operations, including launching drone strikes?

See Also

US Air Force Drone Pilot Career Profile

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Rob V.

Rob V. is the founder of OperationMilitaryKids.org. While he never actually served in the US Military, he has a passion for writing about military related topics.

Born and raised in Woodbridge, NJ, he graduated from the New Jersey Institute Of Technology with an MBA in eCommerce.His hobbies include beach volleyball, target shooting, and lifting.

Rob is also a Commercially rated pilot and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), with over 1,500 hours of flight time.

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Military Drones

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Learn more about the various drones and UAV's used by the US military, including their specs, cost, first flight, and much more.

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FAQs

How many drones are used by the US military? ›

The Department of Defense fields DoD UAS across all four Services, including the National Guard. The Department currently operates more than 11,000 UAS in support of domestic training events and overseas contingency missions.

How were drones used in the military? ›

Drones now have many functions, ranging from monitoring climate change to carrying out search operations after natural disasters, photography, filming, and delivering goods. But their most well-known and controversial use is by the military for reconnaissance, surveillance and targeted attacks.

What are military drones called? ›

UAVs are aircraft that are guided autonomously, by remote control, or by both means and that carry some combination of sensors, electronic receivers and transmitters, and offensive ordnance.

What type of drones does the US military use? ›

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (also called Predator B) is one of the most popular military drones. The United States Air Force primarily uses the MQ-9 Reaper though it is also used by the Navy, CIA, and NASA.

How fast do US military drones fly? ›

List of Fastest Military Drones in the World
DroneTop Speed
Avenger [Predator C]Mach 0.6 [460 mph or 741 kmph]
RQ-4 Global HawkMach 0.51 [391 mph or 630 kmph]
MQ-9B SkyGuardianMach 0.32 [245 mph or 395 kmph]
Camcopter S-100Mach 0.31 [238 mph or 383 kmph]
10 more rows
4 Sept 2022

Will drones be used for war? ›

However, things have dramatically changed. A new era of drone warfare has already arrived involving many more players. And the use of UAVs has moved from counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency warfare into full scale conventional combat.

How long do military drones fly? ›

130 foot wingspan, take-off weight of 32,000 lbs, maximum speed of 391 mph, a service ceiling of 60,000 feet, and enough oomph to stay in the air for over 32 hours.

What are the 5 uses of drones? ›

Drones are now also used in a range of civilian roles, including the following:
  • search and rescue.
  • surveillance.
  • traffic monitoring.
  • weather monitoring.
  • firefighting.
  • personal use.
  • drone-based photography.
  • videography.

How big is a military drone? ›

The Predator air vehicle is 8.2m (27ft) long and has a 14.9m (49ft) wingspan. The system operates at an altitude of 7,620m (25,000ft) and at a range of 740.8km (400nm). The endurance of the air vehicle is more than 40 hours, while the cruise speed is more than 129.6km/h (70kt).

What are the 5 types of drones? ›

Types of Drones

Multi-Rotor Drones. Fixed-Wing Drones. Single-Rotor Drones. Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOL.

Can military drones be detected? ›

Yes, radar can detect all types of drones regardless of whether it uses RF communication, GPS preprogramming or Wifi/Cellular communication. The only limit to radar detection is the size of the drone.

What weapons do military drones carry? ›

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.

How far can a US Army drone fly? ›

Military fixed-wing UAVs can fly at an average range of 3,866km (2,402mi). Unmanned military rotorcraft can fly at an average range of 460. 7km (286. 3mi).

How far can a military drone camera see? ›

A high-quality drone camera can see 1,500-2,000 feet away during the day. At night, drone cameras can pick up an image about 165 feet away before it becomes blurry. The distance a drone camera can see depends on the terrain, nearby obstacles, quality of the drone camera, and air conditions.

Can military drones see at night? ›

A typical drone can clearly see a person at night up to 50 meters away, after which point it can only see a blurred figure. Unless they have night vision, drones can see objects at night only if they're well lit.

What company makes US military drones? ›

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a U.S.-based multinational company specializing in defense and aerospace technology. It offers products in various categories like military vessels, autocannons, chain guns, electronic sensors, and military aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

What is the largest military drone? ›

The RQ-4 Global Hawk is the largest military UAV. Having a wingspan of just over 130 feet, a length of 47.6 feet, and a total weight of 14,950 pounds, this UAV has tons to offer. Let's investigate what the RQ4 is all about.

Can drones destroy tanks? ›

Let's first address how drones are used to attack and destroy tanks. One basic method is to equip drones with gravity bombs or turn the drone into a miniature kamikaze-like weapon. Since they are relatively small, such drones are able to sneak up on unsuspecting tanks and hit them when they might be most vulnerable.

Can drones carry bombs? ›

These commercial drones can be fitted with small bombs. However, they are mainly used to spot enemy troops and to direct attacks. "Ukraine doesn't have as much ammunition as Russia," says Dr Miron. "Having 'eyes in the sky' to spot targets and direct artillery fire means they can make better use of what they have."

Which drone is best for war? ›

So, let's know about the top 10 combat drones in the world in 2022. The MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is the world's first hunter-killer UAV with long-range, high-altitude surveillance capabilities. The MQ-9 is a larger, heavier, and more powerful general atomic aircraft than the MQ-8. MQ-1 is a scavenger.

Can military drones fly in rain? ›

Generally, it's not recommended to fly drones in rain, mist, high humidity, or over water bodies with strong winds. Many drones have venting holes that can expose the electronics inside to moisture. Once water gets inside, short circuits can occur and possibly damage your drone.

How much do military drone pilots get paid? ›

Average U.S. Army Drone Pilot yearly pay in the United States is approximately $63,826, which is 37% above the national average. Salary information comes from 2,675 data points collected directly from employees, users, and past and present job advertisements on Indeed in the past 36 months.

Can military drones see through walls? ›

Drones aren't able to see inside your house unless it's through the windows, as the camera technology required to see through walls doesn't exist yet, even in the case of military use.

Why are drones so important? ›

Increasing work efficiency and productivity, decreasing workload and production costs, improving accuracy, refining service and customer relations, and resolving security issues on a vast scale are a few of the top uses drones offer industries globally.

What problems do drones help solve? ›

A job that used to require manpower and helicopters can simply be done by a few drones. Say goodbye to satellites and a slow process. Besides checking up on the health of trees, drones can also look at real time data on hot spots. This improved data transmission helps companies save time and react quicker to problems.

Who uses drones the most? ›

The possibilities for how drones can help a company are endless, and we're going to cover how some common industries have been using drones.
  1. Agriculture. Agriculture is one industry that drones help a great deal. ...
  2. Real Estate. ...
  3. Insurance. ...
  4. Construction. ...
  5. Telecommunications.

How high can a drone fly? ›

The maximum altitude that a drone can fly is 10 kilometres (33,000 feet), as evidenced by both military drones and youtube videos of adventurers. Drones with rotating rotors get a physical limit of roughly 10 kilometres (33.000ft).

How do you spot a drone at night? ›

Learn How To Spot a Drone at Night?
  1. Search For Tail Lights. The easiest and most common way to spot a drone at night is to look for light because most camera drones come with flashy lights for better quality filming. ...
  2. Follow The Sound. ...
  3. Track The Radio Frequencies. ...
  4. Infrared Light Motion Detection. ...
  5. Use Acoustic Sensors.
21 Jun 2022

Do military drones make noise? ›

Military drones fly at high altitudes and are often invisible to the human eye, it is only the sound of their propellers that reveals their existence. A sound that permeates everything, a frightening buzzing that seems to never stop.

How much does military drone cost? ›

Reaper drones carry laser-guided bombs and other types of air-to-surface missiles to serve the U.S Armed Forces. They can fly for over a thousand miles and operate non-stop for 14 hours. The UK, Netherlands, France, and Spain air forces also use Reapers. A Reaper costs about $32 million!

How much is a drone cost? ›

The average drone price can go from $30 all the way up to $13,000 and beyond. Toy drones will cost on average from $30 to $90 while drones used for photographing and are considered entry level can range from $299 to $499. For mid-level consumer drones, expect between $600 and $1000.

What does a military drone look like at night? ›

Drones can look like stars in the night sky if they are sufficiently far away. At night, drones will look like little dots of light (either red or green) moving across the sky. Some drones will emit a blinking white/green/red light visible for several miles, and you may mistake them for stars.

Do military drones hover? ›

The drone transforms by either bending its wings upward or fully extending them depending on whether the mission requires it to fly at high speed or hover in place, or the types of maneuvers it needs to execute.

What color lights do police drones have? ›

The major thing that differentiates police drones from other drones is their strobe light. Police strobe lights have blue and red colors. If you are a few meters away from a police drone at night, one side of the drone will have a red light and the other side will have a blue light.

Can police Track My drone? ›

Drones operating on RF communication can be tracked using RF sensors, while others that are GPS Pre-Programmed to a way point can be tracked using Radar detection. Visual detection technology like Pan, Tilt and Zoom (PTZ) Cameras can be used to get visuals on the detected drone, and confirm a drone threat.

Do the Feds use drones for surveillance? ›

Public records show the FBI, DEA, and Border Patrol often use Predator drones in surveillance missions inside the United States.

Can drones track your phone? ›

A drone is sent up over a specific area with a cellular base station equipped to it. The drone will then fly over the area and detect signals from the phones in the area. Doing this allows the drone to find the location of the phone and send it back to rescuers.

› news › world-south-asia-10713898 ›

President Barack Obama has confirmed the US is using unmanned aircraft to target suspected militants in tribal areas of Pakistan. · To the military, they...
Ever wonder what U.S. military drones are used for? We share five ways these unique unmanned systems work in the skies via a remote pilot or operator.

Drones

https://www.military.com › equipment › drones
https://www.military.com › equipment › drones
Polish navy divers take on the herculean task of defusing the largest unexploded WWII bomb ever found in the country. Select Service.

How many drones did us give to Ukraine? ›

For the first time, the U.S. is sending 15 ScanEagle surveillance drones to help the Ukrainians spot and correct the precision artillery and rocket strikes that have taken a toll on Russian forces, stalling their progress.

How many drones are flying over the US? ›

Right now, there are around 2.5 million drones that regularly fly over American skies, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In 2020, that number could almost triple, with 7 million drones projected to be active in the skies over our heads, according to a new report) released by the agency today.

How big is the military drone market? ›

The global military drones market grew from $13.31 billion in 2021 to $13.98 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1%. The Russia-Ukraine war disrupted the chances of global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, at least in the short term.

Which country has most drones? ›

Chart showing drones by country
CountryValue
USA334
Turkey172
China151
Pakistan113
43 more rows

Can Ukraine shoot down Russian drones? ›

Ukraine's forces have shot down more than two-thirds of the approximately 330 Shahed drones that Russia has fired through Saturday, the head of Ukraine's intelligence service, Kyrylo Budanov, said in an interview Monday.

Does Russia have killer drones? ›

The Shahed drones that Russia has rebranded as Geran-2 are packed with explosives and are preprogrammed to loiter overhead until they nosedive into a target — reminiscent of Japan's World War II-era kamikaze pilots who would fly their explosive-laden aircraft into U.S. warships and aircraft carriers during the war in ...

Can drones be used to bomb tanks? ›

Ukraine's Aerorozvidka (“Aerial Reconnaissance”) teams are not the first to use small multicopters to drop bombs, but they have transformed the drones from nuisance weapons into tank killers. They have achieved this with simple but effective upgrades that are likely to be copied widely.

Can you see US drones in the sky? ›

So to answer the question, at night, most drones will look like red and green dots in the sky. Commercial drones usually have a very bright (mostly white) strobe light visible for 3 miles in the night sky.

How much do US drone pilots make? ›

Average U.S. Army Drone Pilot yearly pay in the United States is approximately $62,881, which is 36% above the national average.

How far can a military drone fly? ›

NATO type 10,000 ft (3,000 m) altitude, up to 50 km range. Tactical 18,000 ft (5,500 m) altitude, about 160 km range. MALE (medium altitude, long endurance) up to 30,000 ft (9,000 m) and range over 200 km.

Can a civilian buy a military drone? ›

Can I actually buy a military drone? Maybe. It is most likely that your government prohibits the sale of military equipment to civilians, which is why there are machines like the ScanEagle III, which is capable of military operations, but are not officially military craft.

What company makes US military drones? ›

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a U.S.-based multinational company specializing in defense and aerospace technology. It offers products in various categories like military vessels, autocannons, chain guns, electronic sensors, and military aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

What is the deadliest drone? ›

The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance.
...
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper.
MQ-9 Reaper / Predator B
U.S. Air Force MQ-9A Reaper armed with a Paveway
RoleUnmanned combat aerial vehicle
National originUnited States
9 more rows

Which country Cannot fly drone? ›

While many countries allow people to fly drones without permits for now, some such as Thailand and Vietnam require a permit or registration of some kind for all drone flights, others like Sri Lanka and Brunei ban drones entirely, and then there are countries that haven't even established any laws regarding drones.

What is the newest military drone? ›

General Atomics unveiled a new drone Thursday that can carry 16 Hellfire missiles and take off from a dirt road or even an aircraft carrier. Called Mojave, the drone is meant to appeal to special forces fighting in the types of conflicts that have dominated the U.S. military's attention for the past two decades.

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