UAVs, or unmanned / uncrewed aerial vehicles, are one of the biggest threats that warfighters face. They can be flown manually, but these days, many are flown by a remote operator, or even autonomously by onboard computers. UAVs are the main part of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), which also include an operator or computer and a communication system that allows the two pieces to work together. Today we’ll take a look at UAV types and the different ways they can be categorized for better defense strategies.
There are three main ways that UAVs can be categorized:
- Group (as classified by the Department of Defense)
UAVs Categorized By Size
Size is often a major factor for deciding which UAV is appropriate for a mission. For this reason, it’s also one of the main ways that UAVs are categorized. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the features found in each size classification.
Very Small / Micro- / Nano-UAVs
Very small UAVs can range from just two centimeters long to about 50 centimeters long. Their size and weight make them inconspicuous, so they are often used for reconnaissance and surveillance. Because their natural design is so effective, many of the popular very small UAVs are modeled after insects with wings that either flap or rotate to keep them aloft.
Size limits the ranges at which these UAVs can be detected by both radars and electro-optical / infrared (EO / IR) sensors. Their size also limits their altitude and speed, as they are usually flown at less than 125 meters high and speeds less than 50 meters per second.
Small / Mini-UAVs
Small UAVs are slightly larger, spanning from just over 50 centimeters long to about two meters long. They typically feature either a fixed-wing or rotary wing style. Because of their small size, most small UAVs are flown at altitudes near 125 meters at speeds less than 50 meters per second.
Medium UAVs are classified as being longer (or broader) than two meters. They are capable of flying at altitudes less than 5,500 meters at speeds up to 125 meters per second. They typically have a length or wingspan of five to 10 meters.
Like small UAVs, they often feature a fixed-wing or rotary wing style. But unlike small UAVs, they are typically too heavy to be launched manually by a single person. They either require several people to carry them, or are launched by another method.
Large UAVs are what most people picture when talking about types of UAVs. They are the standard for combat operations in the U.S. military. Large UAVs provide the advantage of being able to be flown into protected airspaces from very long distances thanks to their sophisticated electronic system payloads (like radar, electronic warfare, and communications systems). Their size also allows them to fly at altitudes greater than 5,500 meters at speeds greater than 125 meters per second.
UAVs Categorized by Range
UAVs can also be categorized by the goals and missions they can help achieve. When power and range are more important than concealment, UAV types are typically categorized by range.
Close-range UAVs have a range of up to 50km and can typically remain airborne for up to six hours. Due to their small size and close range, they are often used for close-quarters reconnaissance missions.
These UAVs can travel slightly further, up to 150 km. The best short-range UAVs can stay in flight for up to 12 hours. They are used in similar contexts to close-range UAVs, but their extended range and endurance make them a better option for many missions. However, they are significantly more expensive than many close-range options.
Mid-range UAVs can travel up to 650 km from their controller. At around 12 hours, they typically have a similar flight time as short-range UAVs. There is also a subclass of mid-range UAVs that are built for endurance. Their range is between that of short- and mid-range UAVs, but they can fly for nearly two days at a time. These endurance UAVs are great for longer surveillance missions.
Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS)
The broad range of UAVs currently being developed and fielded has birthed the C-UAS mission objective. C-UAS technology has emerged as a necessity to counter UAV threats and maintain air dominance and situational awareness for warfighters.
The C-UAS mission requires a multi-domain sensor solution to provide optimal effectiveness, including sensors for detection, tracking, classification, electronic countermeasures (jamming), and soft-kill / hard-kill UAV neutralization.
Radar’s Role in C-UAS
The radar is the primary sensor in a C-UAS suite because it can provide accurate detection, tracking, and classification in all-weather environments with 24/7 operational capability. The other payloads in a C-UAS suite depend on the radar to provide accurate tracking information to assist in threat location.
RADA USA’s family of high-performance radar products includes three radars that can be tailored for C-UAS defense against UAVs: the eCHR, MHR, and ieMHR. These three radars are all non-rotating, AESA, pulse-Doppler radars with micro-Doppler. They have a common software-defined architecture that enables deployment in varying environmental conditions, and can be operated while stationary or on the move (OTM).
Enhanced Compact Hemispheric Radar (eCHR)
The eCHR is designed for C-UAS and short-range air defense (VSHORAD). Its size, weight, and low power consumption make it super mobile and ideal for OTM operations. It can detect nano-UAV from three km away, mini-UAV from seven km away, and medium UAVs from 10 km away.
Multi-Mission Hemispheric Radar (MHR)
The MHR is super versatile and can handle a broad spectrum of missions, including C-UAS, SHORAD, and counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM). It can identify nano-UAV from six km away, mini-UAV from 10.7 km away, and medium UAVs from up to 23 km away.
Improved and Enhanced Multi-Mission Hemispheric Radar (ieMHR)
The ieMHR offers many of the same features and benefits of the MHR (C-UAS, SHORAD, and C-RAM). It is larger than the MHR and provides a significantly larger detection range. It has the largest range of all three radars, with the ability to identify nano-UAV from 10 km away, mini-UAV from 21 km away, and medium UAV from an incredible 44 km away.