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.

  • Report

    Small Unmanned Aerial System Adversary Capabilities

    Mar 12, 2020

    It is difficult to detect, identify, classify, and—consequently—counter nefarious small unmanned aerial systems (sUASs), particularly in urban areas. As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security prepares for this potential threat, it will need to know the types of threat scenarios in which these systems could be used, which design elements are likely to be exploited by a nefarious actor, and which technologies and capabilities may be available in the near future.

  • Drone quadcopter over a background of binary code, photos by Kadmy/Adobe Stock and enot-poloskun/Getty Images; design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

    Report

    How to Analyze the Cyber Threat from Drones

    Mar 5, 2020

    Unmanned aerial systems—drones—have become more common, more readily available, and more sophisticated. And they have new capabilities, such as increased data collection and autonomous behavior. Their cybersecurity implications demand a coherent strategy.

Explore Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

  • A drone operated by paramilitary police flies over the site of explosions at Binhai new district in Tianjin, China, August 17, 2015

    Report

    Emerging Trends in China's Development of Unmanned Systems

    An exploratory analysis of China's development and use of unmanned systems focuses on maritime unmanned systems, the roles China sees for them, Chinese development of unmanned vehicles, and uses for such systems in the East and South China Seas.

    Mar 12, 2015

  • 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

  • An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle at Balad Air Base, Iraq

    Project

    Dispelling Myths About Armed Drones

    Armed drones have raised hopes among some for a transformational weapon to use against U.S. adversaries, and raised concerns among others about proliferation and misuse. However, drones are fundamentally misunderstood; many of the myths about them can be dispelled.

    Feb 16, 2015

  • Periodical

    Periodical

    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

    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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Reaper drone

    Multimedia

    Events @ RAND Podcast: Drones

    In September 2013, Ted Harshberger, director of RAND Project AIR FORCE, moderated a panel discussion on current military and nonmilitary use of drones and other potential applications.

    Sep 25, 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

  • Dissertation

    Dissertation

    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

  • Report

    Report

    Methodologies for Analyzing Remotely Piloted Aircraft in Future Roles and Missions

    This briefing describes a suite of tools to help the Air Force think through future roles for remotely piloted aircraft.

    May 30, 2012

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