Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: The Revolution in Civilian and Military Sectors

Today, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) hold a prominent place among military aviation technologies in more than 50 countries.

18/10/2023 - 10:19

A decade ago, it was challenging to imagine that flying robots could replace postal workers, waiters, resuscitators, and effectively execute combat operations, competing on par with aviation assets. Today, unmanned flying apparatus, commonly referred to as "drones," are experiencing a boom in various sectors, particularly in the military, as reported by Sarbaz.kz.

For many people not familiar with the basics of aviation, UAVs are often associated with modernized versions of radio-controlled model aircraft. While this notion has some truth to it, the popularity of developing new UAV and drone models suggests a broader scope.

Taking Flight

Remotely controlled systems have been widely used since the 20th century to gather scientific data about various space objects and to capture images of Venus' surface, lunar and Martian rovers can also be aptly classified as unmanned technology. However, the real popularity of unmanned aircraft, particularly over the last decade, has marked a new era for unmanned aviation.

The first unmanned aircraft were essentially uncontrolled: they followed preset mission algorithms, typically for reconnaissance purposes, and their missions couldn't be adjusted during flight. With advancements in technology, this limitation was overcome, and real-time observation from the UAV became feasible. A pilot on the ground observes the surroundings through built-in cameras, records essential information, and makes decisions, much like a pilot of a conventional aircraft.

The capabilities of UAVs significantly interested the Israeli military, leading to their initial deployment during the 1973 war. While these early UAVs served primarily reconnaissance purposes, they were characterized by substantial size and weight limitations. Nonetheless, Israel's interest paved the way for becoming global leaders in the UAV market.

The combat potential of drones was significantly explored by American engineers who designed UAV models capable of functioning as both fighters and bombers. These combat machines were notably larger due to their payload, weighing hundreds of kilograms.

Faster, Higher, Stronger

The evolution of modern combat drones exhibits a stable trend toward increased armament options, takeoff weight, and maximum flight altitude.

Currently, UAVs hold a prominent place among military aviation technologies in more than 50 countries. Over 300 models have been developed and manufactured, with more than 80 models in service across various nations. The United States ranks as a definitive leader in this field. Nevertheless, Israeli UAV models are also among the most popular combat drones globally.

Today, the U.S. military employs kamikaze drones as well. The "Switchblade" UAV carries a warhead and is capable of self-destruction after achieving its mission objectives. It can be transported in a small backpack and launched in field conditions. This cutting-edge technology is so clever that it disables its engine when approaching the target and glides to its destination.

The development of combat drones has continued to push boundaries. For example, in late 2015, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency announced the development of a high-altitude UAV armed with a compact laser, capable of intercepting ballistic missiles at altitudes of 20,000 meters. The future potential for warfare using drones is daunting to contemplate.

Expanding into New Professions

Today, drones are in demand not only for the military but also for civilian applications. Despite their high costs (depending on equipment and technical capabilities, UAVs can range from a few to tens of thousands of dollars), their economic benefits make them attractive.

Drones are used to search for people lost in mountainous areas, assess the danger during natural disasters, monitor volcanic eruptions, and perform various tasks that previously endangered the lives and health of human pilots.

Furthermore, drones are actively used for border protection and population migration control, such as at the U.S.-Mexico border, where they track the movements of illegal workers and smugglers. UAVs have also found application in aerial photography, agriculture, science, and numerous other industries.

Abroad, drones have moved far beyond photography and videography. In Australia, in 2015, the "Wing" project was launched for the delivery of essential items such as medicines to remote areas. The Netherlands has successfully deployed drone defibrillators that save the lives of cardiac arrest victims by locating them based on the caller's mobile phone location data and then flying to their position. Further navigation is performed via GPS.

In the U.S. state of California, small-sized UAVs have been adopted by hotels to serve as waiters, delivering small payloads, including champagne to guests. In various countries, ultra-small UAVs perform diverse functions, such as distributing Wi-Fi. Cutting-edge amphibious drones allow for photo and video capture even underwater.

Protection Against Drones

Drones offer a multitude of useful functions, but they also present several negative aspects, especially when they fall into the wrong hands. The danger posed by military UAVs is unquestionable. Still, when it comes to civilian drones, it's a two-sided coin. Possible threats include unauthorized surveillance, collecting illegal information through photo and video collection, and more.

Another form of danger is that such devices are increasingly appearing dangerously close to airports, posing a threat to passenger aircraft.

How Can One Recognise and Defend Against UAV’s Actions?

Firstly, experts advise staying in the shade of trees and buildings during the day. This simple yet effective advice shouldn't be dismissed, unless, of course, the drone is equipped with a special thermal camera that can see through buildings, in which case using a thermal blanket to deceive the camera is recommended. It is also advisable to refrain from using mobile phones and GPS devices.

The issue of protecting against UAVs prompted foreign experts to create a manual called the "Drone Survival Guide," which includes illustrations of different drone silhouettes. Alongside these illustrations are the names of the UAVs, the countries they belong to, and their intended purposes (such as reconnaissance and attack). This manual also includes "civilian" drones.

A more proactive means of protection against UAVs is the DroneDefender, developed in 2015 – a portable device that intercepts drones with a powerful radio signal. By pulling the trigger, the device emits a concentrated radio frequency beam on frequencies typical for most GPS and ISM signals. This immobilizes the drone and disrupts communication with the operator, making it possible to land and repurpose it. The effective range of such a device is around 400 meters.

Japanese authorities believe that protection against drones can be achieved by "fighting fire with fire." To neutralize flying objects, the local police adapted the DJI Spreading Wings 900 model, attaching a net measuring 3x2 meters to the drone's underside. When an unidentified UAV is detected in the air, the interceptor deploys the net, relocates the intruder to a safe distance, and lowers it to the ground. The law enforcement agencies in the Netherlands went even further by training birds of prey to capture unidentified UAVs. This is expected to be employed only in emergency situations where the use of other interceptor drones could pose a risk to people's lives.

Global experience has shown that authorities in countries with extensive drone usage are seriously concerned about potential threats posed by UAVs. For example, U.S. authorities have decided to register all drones, from the smallest toys to professional machines. With the growing popularity of drones, other countries might need to take similar measures.

Drones and various types of UAVs have become integral in the private lives of everyday citizens and the military industry of many nations. As such, it's reasonable to assume that the development of UAVs will directly impact the comfort of ordinary citizens and air dominance in military contexts.

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