From scepticism to Sine Quan Non.

Author:Braybrook, Roy
Position:Complete Guide

The military drone arena is progressing rapidly, in terms of both technological capability and the dollar value of the business. According to the US Department of Defense "UAV Roadmap 2002-2027", about now we should expect to see (for example) a diesel-powered tactical drone fielded, and one that is inaudible beyond 150 metres. Its sensor payload should be capable of identifying individuals at 7.5 km, and within two years it should be able to detect targets hidden under trees. Its datalink should be able to relay the entire comint spectrum in real time. The following report summarises recent developments in each drone category.

The first drones were targets for air defence systems, and this category remains a significant part of the aerospace business. At the lower end, lightweight piston-engined drones such as the Eads-Cac Fox TS1 and TS3 still serve in the development of short-range air defences and in the training of operators (although they no longer seem to be strongly promoted by Eads).

The latest propeller-driven target produced by Meggitt Defence Systems is the 210 kg Voodoo, powered by a 108 kW engine. However, sales continue with the 17-year old, 95 kg Banshee, equipped with a 18.6 or 37 kW engine, as evidenced by an order in 2004 by the Finnish Armed Forces. Over 5000 Banshees have been sold to 40 countries. In 2001 it was announced that Meggitt and Cobham (which includes FR Aviation) were forming a joint venture, Integrated Target Services, to provide a complete solution to aerial target needs.

The mother of all jet-powered target drones was the Ryan (later Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical, now part of Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems) Model 147, which in 1948 won a contest that resulted in the AQM/BQM-34 Firebee and led to the production of over 7000 units. For the 2003 invasion of Iraq, five Firebees (two were ground-launched and three air-launched from the sole surviving US Navy DC-130A) were equipped with GPS navigation and used to drop chaff over Baghdad. Interestingly, this project is reported to have been a by-product of a Special Operations Command investigation into the use of drones to resupply otherwise inaccessible ground units.

From the 1960s the Firebee was supplemented in US Navy service by the same company's BQM/MQM-74, named Chukar in the export market. Over 7500 have been produced. The BQM-74E version was introduced into service by the Navy in 1993 is currently being produced at a rate of ten per month and a further contract for an additional 60 have been awarded in April 2005 to the tune of $48.2 million with an option for another 60 for delivery in 2007. In December 2003 the service awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to upgrade its BQM-34 Firebee fleet with the control and guidance system of the BQM-74E Chukar. The BQM-74F is an extensively redesigned development, with longer range and an increased speed (Mach 0.92) and manoeuvrability. Its maiden flight is planned for the latter half of 2005.

The US Army's equivalent of the Firebee and the Chukar is the Raytheon/ Composite Engineering MQM-107A Streaker, a 664-kg ground-launched drone with a 4.43 kN Microturbo Tri-60 engine. Since 1977 the service has used it in the development, testing and training of crews for the Patriot, Pac-3, Improved Hawk and Stinger air defence systems. Since 1984 the US Air Force has used the MQM-107B in air-to-air firings of the Sidewinder, Sparrow and Amraam missiles. The latest version is the MQM107E, for which a contract was placed in 1994 with Tracor, which is now part of BAE Systems.

In July 2002 the Composite Engineering Skeeter was selected by the US Air Force as the basis for its next generation BQM-167A Air Force Subscale Aerial Target (Afsat), to replace the BQM-34A and MQM-107D/E. The Skeeter had flown in 2001, and the BQM-167A had its maiden flight on 8 December 2004. It will provide a maximum speed of Mach 0.91 and cruise at an altitude between 20 ft and 50,000 ft. CEi is producing 50 per year under a seven-year US Air Force contract. Boeing is reported to be studying a BGM-167 multi-role derivative, weighing around 900 kg in ground-launched form, and carrying (for example) two Hellfire missiles or an electronic attack payload.

The latest European subsonic targets include the Dornier-Eads single-engined Do-DT25 and twin-jet Do-DT35 drones, both of which completed qualification trials in 2004. The German armed forces will use both types in the training of Stinger, Roland and Patriot units. Meanwhile, Galileo Avionica is developing the jet-powered Locusta mini-target to be released from a primary target drone such as the Meteor Mirach 100. The 20 kg Locusta is proposed as a secondary target for use with air defence systems that are intended to destroy with a direct hit.

Supersonic Targets

The US Navy's standard high altitude supersonic target is the air-launched, non-reusable, rocket-propelled Raytheon/ Composite Engineering AQM-37. The original AQM-37A weighed 256 kg at launch and was capable of climbing to 80,000 ft. The AQM-37C weighs 280 kg and reaches 100,000 ft. The latest AQM-37D is capable of Mach 4.6 at 115,000 ft. The series is employed by the US Navy to simulate supersonic and ballistic missile threats, and has been exported to France, Israel, Italy and Britain. Over 5000 AQM-37s have been produced, and the AQM-37C/D is still enjoying limited production for the US Navy.

For several years the US Navy has had a requirement for a target to represent the Raduga 3M80/82 Moskit (SS-N-22 Sunburn) anti-ship missile in testing the Evolved Sea Sparrow and Standard Missiles. The Moskit has a range of 120 km and a cruise speed of Mach 2.5. In June 2000 Orbital Sciences was awarded the EMD (Engineering and Manufacturing Development) contract for the Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target (SSST) system.

The resulting GQM-163A Coyote is launched by a tandem rocket booster from a Standard Missile, and powered by a solid-fuel ducted rocket developed by Atlantic Research. It is designed to cruise for 100 km at Mach 2.5 at a height of 16 ft, and then descend to 13 ft for the 20 km terminal phase, which is flown at Mach 2.3. It is capable of 13.9-G manoeuvres. The avionics are derived from those of the Raytheon AQM-37D target. The first flight by one of six test vehicles took place on 18 May 2004. The contract included options on a further 90 operational systems through 2006.

The project that lost to the Coyote was a Boeing proposal to develop an extended-range version of the MA-31 target variant of the Zvezda-Strela (later Tactical Missiles Corp) Kh-31A air-launched anti-ship missile. This has been in service with the Russian Air Force since 1988, and is capable of Mach 2.5 at sea level.

The 600 kg MA-31 target first flew in 1996, and Boeing has delivered at least 61 to the US Navy. There are reports of a further 41 being negotiated.

The US Navy is studying target systems for testing the Raytheon SM-6 Extended Range Active Missile, emulating the threat posed by the two-stage Novator 3M54E (SS-N-27), which has already been exported. This has a range of up to 220 km, largely cruising subsonically at low level. For the 20 km terminal phase it pops up to check the target position, then detaches a rocket-powered 'dart', which attacks the ship at Mach 2.9 and a height of less than 30 ft.


The air-launched decoy drone is an important element in reducing the effectiveness of air defence systems. The leader in this field was Brunswick Defense, which developed the Samson swing-wing glide vehicle. This was license manufactured by Israel Military Industries (IMI) in the early 1980s, and around 2000 Samsons were supplied to the US Navy by Brunswick. The improved ADM-141A Tald (Tactical Air-Launched Decoy) was then produced for the US Navy, entering service in 1987. Brunswick subsequently left the decoy business, and from 1996 the Tald became the responsibility of Israel Military Industries. The Tald has a gliding range of up to 100 km, and over 100 Talds were used in the 1991 Gulf War. The United Kingdom may acquire some surplus US Navy Talds for use on the Harrier GR7/9.

The ADM-141D Improved Tald (Itald) has a 0.79 kN Teledyne Continental J700-CA-400 turbojet, and a range of up to 280 km. It first flew in 1996, and the F/A-18 can carry up to 20 units. The chaff-dispensing version weighs 172 kg and the jammer 181 kg. IMI is upgrading US Navy stocks of around 6000 Talds to Itald standard and has recently teamed with Northrop Grumman to further develop the concept.

In 2003 the US Air Force selected Raytheon for its low-cost Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (Mald), which is currently in the SDD (System Development and Demonstration) phase. It is due to fly in 2006 and will be used initially on the F16 and B-52. The Maid is a swing-wing 115-kg air vehicle with a 0.67 kN Hamilton Sundstrand TJ-150 engine, which was made possible by Darpa's Sengap (Small Engine Advanced Program). It is to cruise at Mach 0.91 at 40,000 ft and provoke 'double-digit' air defence systems (i.e., SA-10 and above) into disclosing their positions. Unit cost is required to be less than $ 125,000. Low-rate initial production is to start in 2007 and deliveries should be completed by 2011. In 2004 the US Air Force decided to support an electronic attack version, the Mald-J, equipped with a jammer.


In 1995 Darpa began funding studies of micro air vehicles (dubbed Mavs), defined as having a wingspan of less than 15 cm and a weight of less than 100 gram. One of the main beneficiaries was AeroVironment, which in August 2000 demonstrated the 80 gram Black Widow, which was powered by a lithium battery and capable of downlinking real-time colour video. The company subsequently demonstrated its Microbat ornithopter weighing less than 15 gram, and in August 2003 achieved a duration of 107 minutes with its Wasp drone powered by a lithiumion battery. It has a span of 33 cm and a weight of 170 gram. In March 2003 AeroVironment flew its 38 cm...

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