Despite some pretty disturbing news on UAV developments that are coming from China and a group of other countries U.S. remains the global leader in development, production and most importantly successful implementation of unmanned aircraft vehicles or drones. However, there is a lot of speculation regarding the world’s expanding drone fleets and their potential for reducing the threshold for going to war. Here is a list of known facts regarding this sensitive issue.
- USA is the main developer and manufacturer (however not exporter) of UAVs. Near the top of the line, the Predator B, or MQ9-Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, costs about $10.5 million. By comparison, a single F-22 fighter jet costs about $150 million.
The new smaller models are currently developed.
- Raytheon Missile Systems is in process of designing a 13lb Small Tactical Munition to be carried by smaller unmanned aircraft like Shadow, TigerShark, Hunter and Viking. The device is around 24 inches long and 4 inches around.
- Northrop Grumman has come out with the Viper Strike, a gliding,GPS-aided laser-guided variant of the Northrop Grumman Brilliant Anti-Tank (BAT) munition which originally had a combinationacoustic and IR seeker. The Viper Strike is 36 inches long and only 5.5 inches in diameter.
- Lockheed Martin has releasedthe Scorpion (21.5 inches in length, and 4.25 inches in diameter),which is adaptable to multiple launch platforms, including manned or unmanned systems.
- China is constantly increasing it’s development and production as well as export of drones. At the most recent Zhuhai air show they revealed WJ-600 drone and than two dozen other Chinese models. Little is known about their actual abilities but the speed at which they have been developed highlights how U.S. military successes with drones have changed strategic thinking worldwide and spurred a global rush for unmanned aircraft.
- Israel, the second-largest drone manufacturer after the United States, has flown armed models, but few details are available.
- India announced this year that it is developing ones that will fire missiles and fly at 30,000 feet.
- Russia has shown models of drones with weapons, but there is little evidence that they are operational.
- Pakistan has said it plans to obtain armed drones from China, which has already sold the nation ones for surveillance.
- Iran last summer unveiled a drone that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the “ambassador of death” but whose effectiveness is still unproven, according to military analysts.
China’s drone technology hasn’t reached the world’s first-class level, but the Chinese are catching up quickly. This is something we know for sure.