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.

  • Commentary

    Can Cheap Drones Be the Answer to Tensions in the Taiwan Strait?

    The more we learn about the war in Ukraine, the more we come to know that drones will play an increasingly important role on the modern battlefield. But how is the U.S. military thinking about what role these aircraft might play in future wars? When paired with modern sensors, could they offer an asymmetric advantage in future competitions?

    Jun 29, 2023

  • Commentary

    Robots, Drones, and AI, Oh My: Navigating the New Frontier of Military Medicine

    The integration of autonomous drones and robotic technology marks a turning point, heralding a transformative era in battlefield care. The future of military medicine lies in harnessing these advancements while maintaining the ethical integrity and human touch essential to medical care.

    Jan 8, 2024

Explore Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

  • Report

    Report

    Emerging Technology and Risk Analysis: Unmanned Aerial Systems Intelligent Swarm Technology

    Researchers provide an assessment of the risk to the U.S. homeland from intelligent swarm technology using unmanned aerial systems or drones. They consider technology availability, threat, vulnerability, and consequences over the next decade.

    Feb 15, 2024

  • The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney defeats Houthi missiles and UAVs in the Red Sea, October 19, 2023, photo by PO2 Aaron La/U.S. Navy via Reuters

    Commentary

    Getting 'Left-of-Launch' in the Counter-Drone Fight

    The democratization of drone technology means that adversaries are now able to conduct attacks with near impunity. The Houthis' recent drone attacks in the Red Sea show that America's current approach to countering them is not working. A holistic, offensive strategy is needed.

    Jan 17, 2024

  • The large unmanned surface vessel Nomad transits the Pacific Ocean to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, June 22, 2022, photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Tyler R. Fraser/U.S. Navy

    Commentary

    Creating the Uncrewed-Centric Navy of the Mid-21st Century

    The emergence of uncrewed technologies can enable the Navy to achieve greater capacity and operate in harm's way by avoiding over-concentration of combat power in too few assets.

    Nov 30, 2023

  • A loitering munition UAV on display as Taiwan's Defence Ministry showcases its domestically developed drones to the media in Taichung, Taiwan, March 14, 2023, photo by Ann Wang/Reuters

    Commentary

    Chinese Strategists Evaluate the Use of 'Kamikaze' Drones in the Russia-Ukraine War

    Both Russia and Ukraine have used loitering munitions successfully in the current war, and China is watching closely. Chinese strategists are likely already considering how to refine offensive tactics and improve defensive countermeasures in the context of a Taiwan scenario.

    Nov 7, 2023

  • Periodical

    Periodical

    RAND Review: September-October 2023

    Features explore the impact of four-day school weeks; the risk of people in the intelligence community experiencing trauma; and how insomnia affects societal health, well-being, and productivity.

    Sep 11, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, Neurodiversity, Russia's 'Forever War': RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on public reports of unidentified aerial phenomena, neurodiversity and national security, Ukraine's path to victory, and more.

    Jul 28, 2023

  • U.S. Navy sailors recover a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, February 5, 2023, U.S. Navy photo via EyePress News/Reuters

    Commentary

    UFOs Are Not the Only Potential Threat in American Skies

    How can the United States best monitor its millions of square miles of domestic airspace for unidentified anomalous phenomena—what were once called UFOs—or anything else? Public reporting could help officials identify potential threats—but it'd help if the sightings being reported were actually unknown aerial phenomena and not U.S. military aircraft.

    Jul 25, 2023

  • A drone or other object in the sky during a colorful sunset, photo by Наталья Босяк/Adobe Stock

    Report

    Where Are Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Sightings in the United States?

    The February 2023 Chinese surveillance balloon incident raised questions about the degree to which the U.S. government knows who is flying what over its skies. Public reporting of unidentified aerial phenomena may help officials identify potential threats.

    Jul 25, 2023

  • An XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle launches at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, December 9, 2020, photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua King/U.S. Air Force

    Commentary

    Is the Warning Clock on Our National Defense Running Out?

    The United States has never invoked a ten-year rule regarding preparations for long-term military competition with China, as Great Britain did after World War I. But there have been times when the United States has behaved as if such a rule were in place.

    Jul 10, 2023

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    Aerial Minefields Can Put the 'Miss' in Missiles

    The growing missile threat is the greatest tactical challenge of the early 21st century. Adversaries ranging from near-peer competitors to rebel groups increasingly can wield highly accurate missiles that can strike ships, ground forces, and key installations.

    May 23, 2023

  • A still image taken from video shows a flying object approaching the dome of the Kremlin Senate building in Moscow, Russia, May 2, 2023, photo by Ostorozhno Novosti

    Commentary

    What the Drone Strikes on the Kremlin Reveal About the War in Ukraine

    False flag, special op, or fizzled attack—it may not be possible to get to the bottom of who launched drones at the Kremlin and why any time soon. But the incident and reactions it has elicited from the war's major players reveal just how important weaponized, long-range drones have become in this conflict.

    May 4, 2023

  • A Coast Guard unmanned aircraft system hovers during training in Astoria, Oregon, February 24, 2023, photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Diolanda Caballero/U.S. Coast Guard

    Commentary

    Coast Guard Leans Forward in New UxS Strategy but Faces Significant Challenges

    The rise of unmanned systems creates a challenging landscape for the U.S. Coast Guard as it endeavors to conduct its diverse missions in the future. To address emerging technologies and prepare for forthcoming threats, the service recently released a strategic plan.

    May 3, 2023

  • Report

    Report

    Characterizing the Uncrewed Systems Industrial Base

    The Department of Defense has hypothesized that future demand for uncrewed systems (UxS) will strain the capacity of the defense industrial base (DIB). This report contains an analysis of UxS demand and recommendations on strengthening the DIB.

    Apr 26, 2023

  • Report

    Report

    Russia's Asymmetric Response to 21st Century Strategic Competition: Robotization of the Armed Forces

    The authors explore Russian views on the military applications of robotics and artificial intelligence and how they differ from the United States' views on the matter. They assess whether Moscow has delivered -- or can deliver -- its robotization vision.

    Mar 13, 2023

  • Report

    Report

    Characterizing the Performance of Uncrewed Aircraft Systems

    Analysts leveraged available data on performance of uncrewed aircraft system platforms to develop an approach to characterizing spray coverage as a function of payload, speed, endurance, and delivery and presenting performance parameters of interest.

    Feb 6, 2023

  • An Algerian corvette fires a Chinese-made anti-ship missile, photo by Hakim Djebbour/Wikimedia (CC by 4.0)

    Tool

    Mapping Chinese and Russian Military and Security Exports to Africa

    Military weapons exports and private military and security contractors are important tools for projecting a country's influence around the world. How have China and Russia employed these tools across Africa in recent years?

    Dec 13, 2022

  • Local residents look at parts of an unmanned aerial vehicle after a Russian drone strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 17, 2022, photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/Reuters

    Commentary

    'Wonder Weapons' Will Not Win Russia's War

    With its army increasingly in shambles, Russia has turned to attacking Ukraine's civilian infrastructure with Iranian-made drones in an effort to destroy Ukrainians' will to fight. These tactics will inflict pain on the Ukrainian population, but if history is any guide, they will not forestall a Russian defeat.

    Nov 10, 2022

  • Workers make parts for pneumatic guns at one of the eight manufacturers licensed by the Ministry of Public Security in Qingliu county, Fujian province, China, May 26, 2022, photo by Hu Guolin/FeatureChina via AP Images, Workers make parts for pneumatic guns at one of the eight manufa

    Tool

    Where Has China Sent Weapons and Security Contractors?

    China exported weapons to 38 countries from 2018 to 2021. It also exported private security contractors to protect and secure its interests in other countries, such as mining facilities and ports. A map of the exports shows China's expansive influence across Asia and Africa and into Latin America.

    Aug 19, 2022