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UAS, UAV and Drones

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), earlier known as a drones, can be a remote controlled aircraft (flown by a pilot at a ground control station) or can fly autonomously based on pre-programmed flight plans or more complex dynamic automation systems. UAVs have been used for decades on numerous missions, including practice targets, reconnaissance and attack roles. For the purposes of this page, and to distinguish UAVs from missiles, a UAV is defined as being capable of controlled, sustained level flight and powered by a jet or reciprocating engine. In addition, a cruise missile can be considered to be a UAV, but is treated separately on the basis that the vehicle is the weapon. As the technology has advanced, the acronym UAV has transitioned in some cases to UAVS (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle System) and more recently to Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

Years before the first manned airplane flight on December 17, 1903, primitive UAV technology was used for combat and surveillance in at least two wars. During World War I, the first UAVs took flight in the U.S. Though the success of UAVs in test flights was erratic, the military recognized their potential in combat.

The US Navy began experimenting with radio-controlled aircraft during the 1930s as well, resulting in the Curtiss N2C-2 drone in 1937. The N2C-2 was remotely controlled from another aircraft, called a TG-2. N2C-2 anti-aircraft target drones were in service by 1938. Numerous drones were utilized as "target-carriers", where they could tow banners or small targets utilized by ground based artillery or by manned aircraft.

The US Army Air Forces (USAAF) adopted the N2C-2 concept in 1939. Obsolescent aircraft were put into service as "A-series" anti-aircraft target drones. Since the "A" code would be also used for "Attack" aircraft, later "full-sized" targets would be given the "PQ" designation. USAAF acquired hundreds of Culver "PQ-8" target drones, which were radio-controlled versions of the tidy little Culver Cadet two-seat light civil aircraft, and thousands of the improved Culver PQ-14 Cadet derivative of the PQ-8. The US also used RC aircraft, including modified B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator heavy bombers in Aphrodite and Anvil operations in combat on a small scale during World War II as very large aerial torpedoes.

With extensive cost reductions and advancements in the UAVs technology, the defense forces around the globe are increasingly using these for various applications such as surveillance, logistics, communication, attack and combat. For intelligence and reconnaissance missions, the inherent stealth of micro UAV flapping-wing ornithopters, imitating birds or insects, offers potential for covert surveillance and makes them difficult targets to bring down.

As of 2020, seventeen countries have armed UAVs, and more than 100 countries use UAVs in a military capacity. The global military UAV market is dominated by companies based in the United States, Turkey, China, Israel and Iran.

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