Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

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An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft that carries no human pilot or passengers. UAVs — sometimes called “drones” — can be fully or partially autonomous but are more often controlled remotely by a human pilot. RAND research has contributed to the public discussion on the use of drones for warfare and surveillance.

  • A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator on its final approach to Indian Springs Auxiliary Field in Nevada

    Report

    Armed and Dangerous? UAVs and U.S. Security

    Apr 7, 2014

    While armed drones are not truly transformative weapons, they do offer the United States some significant advantages, particularly against enemies that lack air defenses. How the United States uses these weapons today and into the future will be important in shaping a broader set of international norms that discourage their misuse by others.

Explore Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

  • An MQ-9 Reaper sits on a ramp in Afghanistan

    Commentary

    Armed Drone Myth 3: Global Proliferation Demands Blanket Restrictions on Sales

    More than 70 countries have acquired drones of different classes and for different purposes. However, the number of countries actually developing “armed” drones is far smaller. And smaller still is the number of those countries developing long-range armed systems.

    Feb 19, 2015

  • Illustration of idea, solution, and money

    Commentary

    Managing Technology in an Unmanageable World

    The need for purposeful and focused R&D in the U.S. has never been greater, but technology is advancing so quickly that the structures available to manage it have not kept pace. A comprehensive examination of the technological landscape is needed to help the government take a more holistic approach to investing in and regulating technologies.

    Feb 19, 2015

  • An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft takes off from Joint Base Balad, Iraq

    Commentary

    Armed Drone Myth 2: It's Counterproductive to Develop International Norms

    The challenge in establishing international norms for armed drones will be to define rules that preserve the rights of countries to use them in legitimate ways against legitimate threats (senior al Qaeda or Islamic State terrorists) while constraining illegitimate uses (political dissidents).

    Feb 18, 2015

  • An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flightline at Creech Air Force Base, NV

    Commentary

    Armed Drone Myth 1: They Will Transform How War Is Waged Globally

    Long-range military drones are fundamentally misunderstood. Their champions wrongly contend they are revolutionizing warfare, while critics fear their spread would greatly increase the threat that China, terrorists, and others pose.

    Feb 17, 2015

  • Report

    RAND Review: January-February 2015

    This issue of RAND Review reports on technology literacy in kids, self-driving cars, marijuana legalization, hacking and cybersecurity, monetary compensation for mass tragedies, and recent philanthropic gifts to RAND.

    Jan 12, 2015

  • Report

    Designing Unmanned Systems with Greater Autonomy: Using a Federated, Partially Open Systems Architecture Approach

    Many current unmanned systems (UxSs) employ different communication systems and have limited autonomy, which limit information sharing with warfighters and other UxSs. This report identifies ways to address these limitations.

    Sep 17, 2014

  • A sensor operator and pilot follow a vehicle with a remotely piloted aircraft in a flight training simulator

    Report

    Building Toward an Unmanned Aircraft System Training Strategy

    Unmanned aircraft systems — or drones — have become increasingly prevalent in and important to U.S. military operations. Training now needs to be integrated more formally and cost-effectively into service and joint training programs.

    Jul 28, 2014

  • Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in Mosul, Iraq, June 11, 2014

    Commentary

    Obama's Iraq Dilemma

    On the surface, President Obama faces a classic foreign policy dilemma: The Iraqis are asking for U.S. military assistance to halt ISIS's dangerous offensive, but Obama has long promised the American people that he would withdraw the U.S. military from involvement in Iraq.

    Jun 17, 2014

  • Report

    The Effectiveness of Remotely Piloted Aircraft in a Permissive Hunter-Killer Scenario

    This report analyzes the operational effectiveness of several new concepts for employing remotely piloted aircraft in a permissive hunter-killer mission.

    May 9, 2014

  • DPU Soldiers conduct cyber defense exercise

    Commentary

    Russia Hacks a U.S. Drone in Crimea as Cyberwarfare Has Gone Wireless

    For American audiences and policymakers alike, cyber activities in Crimea provide a chilling reminder that cyberspace is emerging as a 21st-century global battlefield.

    Apr 7, 2014

  • A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator on its final approach to Indian Springs Auxiliary Field in Nevada

    Report

    Armed and Dangerous? UAVs and U.S. Security

    While armed drones are not truly transformative weapons, they do offer the United States some significant advantages, particularly against enemies that lack air defenses. How the United States uses these weapons today and into the future will be important in shaping a broader set of international norms that discourage their misuse by others.

    Apr 7, 2014

  • Pakistani girl holds up a picture she drew depicting the U.S. drone strike on her village which killed her grandmother

    Commentary

    The Downside of Drones

    The chief political drawback is that target countries' populations view drone attacks as violations of their sovereignty every bit as much as manned raids. The chief military drawback: A drone attack destroys the critical intelligence that is needed to ensure that the tactical strike can be converted to strategic advantage.

    Nov 1, 2013

  • People hold posters of senior al Qaeda figure Abu Anas al-Liby during a demonstration over his capture by U.S. authorities

    Commentary

    How War on Terrorism Has Evolved

    Special operations to capture terrorists are more dangerous than drone strikes, and nimble terrorist adversaries will develop countermeasures to make them even more difficult. But they are politically more acceptable and offer opportunities for intelligence and the visible delivery of justice.

    Oct 24, 2013

  • The opening of the 1st Afghan National Army Special Operations Brigade, Aug. 20, 2013

    Commentary

    The Future of Counterterrorism: Fewer Drones, More Partnerships

    Drones are just one of three principal U.S. counterterrorism tools. Special Operations forces are now relying on a more balanced mix of tactics: Launching raids and developing partner forces offer more versatility than drone strikes and will probably become the wave of the future as America's big wars wind down.

    Oct 21, 2013

  • U.S. marines during a live-fire exercise on the flight deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio

    Blog

    Do U.S. Raids in Libya, Somalia Signal a Shift in Terror Strategy?

    The raids that the United States conducted over the weekend in Libya and Somalia could signal a new focus in Washington on capturing terrorist suspects and gathering intelligence rather than relying on drone strikes. RAND experts Linda Robinson, Angel Rabasa, and Seth Jones comment.

    Oct 10, 2013

  • An MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft

    Commentary

    Drones Are Useful, but Not the Solution or the Problem

    The effectiveness of our attacks, particularly by drones, has already decimated the al Qaeda hierarchy, writes Harold Brown. That achievement, together with the negative effect on Muslim publics of drone attacks, suggests that the rate of their usage could be moderated.

    May 16, 2013

  • Nigerian troops march toward an Air Force C-130 Hercules

    Commentary

    The Benefits of U.S. Drones in West Africa

    The establishment of a U.S. base in Niger is intended to facilitate intelligence collection and will provide a more complete picture of militant movements in Niger, Mali, and other countries in the Sahel, writes Seth Jones. The United States will share this intelligence with Malian and French forces.

    Apr 5, 2013

  • Report

    Expanding the Use of Time/Frequency Difference of Arrival Geolocation in the Department of Defense

    Explores an area in which the Department of Defense can operate smarter with its proliferating unmanned aircraft systems fleet.

    Nov 12, 2012

  • U.S. Air Force Academy's unmanned Viking 300 aircraft

    Commentary

    Expect More Drone Use Like Recent Israeli Episode

    Practically any country that aspires to an indigenous aviation industry (as most countries do, even if only for national pride) has a reasonably capable, medium-altitude unmanned drone system in development or flying already, writes Ted Harshberger.

    Oct 11, 2012

  • Drone recovery demonstration

    Commentary

    Drone Strikes Keep Pressure on al-Qaida

    Recently declassified correspondence seized in the bin Laden raid shows that the relentless pressure from the drone campaign on al-Qaida in Pakistan led bin Laden to advise al-Qaida operatives to leave Pakistan's Tribal Areas as no longer safe, writes Patrick B. Johnston.

    Aug 22, 2012

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