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How are Military Drones Different from Commercial Drones?

combat drone
From firefighting drones to surveillance and payload delivery, drones are versatile devices with many uses. Since their availability to the general public, they have become vital to many industries. However, military applications remain the primary use of drones today since most drones manufactured are currently for military use. They are used as target decoys, in research and development and even for supervision. Additionally, military drones are also deployed in combat missions. Specific armed combat drones assist ground forces by prioritizing high-value targets and providing real-time video surveillance.

How are Military Drones Different from Commercial Drones?

Both military and commercial drones are staples in many industries for providing valuable support in streamlining operations. They are widely used in aerial photography, crop dusting, and weather reporting. However, they have their differences. Here’s what sets combat drones apart from commercial or consumer models:
  • Transmission signals
However, one difference between commercial and combat UAVs is their operation. Retail and consumer drones often rely on radio signals from a remote controller or via an app on a device. By contrast, drones rely on a complex network of GPS satellites and ground control stations to navigate. Ground control stations often switch to satellite and GPS signals to control the aircraft and relay its position.
  • Size
A fighter drone is often larger and heavier than a commercial drone, weighing over 600 kilograms (roughly 1,300 pounds). Comparatively, retail and consumer drones weigh up to 20 kilograms (about 40 pounds). On top of this, military drones tend to have a higher payload capacity. Certain military drones can carry as much as 270 kilograms (about 600 pounds) aside from their built-in instruments and fuel tanks.
  • Type
Almost all military drones resemble fixed-wing aircraft. As a result, they have an enormous wingspan than most commercial or consumer fixed-wing drones. They also tend to be powered by gasoline or diesel engines, which allows them to stay airborne for hours. Meanwhile, civilian or consumer drones are often quadcopters powered by built-in rechargeable batteries. They are lighter than fuel tanks, easier to maintain, and more environmentally friendly.

How are Drones Changing Military Operations?

Drones are versatile pieces of engineering that have many commercial and civilian uses. Today, it’s not uncommon to see small drones competing recreationally, such as in a drone race or drone fight. The same has been confirmed in the military for some time. Thanks to drones, the following types of operations are streamlined and optimized:
  • Reconnaissance
  Reconnaissance and surveillance are critical for military operations since gathering information is the first step to ensure a successful one. Unlike manned aircraft, drones can be deployed much faster and relay correct information on objectives in real-time. They are also much quieter than piloted aircraft, making them less conspicuous.
  • Situational and combat assessment
UAVs need not provide direct support during engagements. Gathering intelligence is scanning the battlefield for reliable information, from enemy positions to combat damage. Outside engagements, combat drones can also provide valuable weather forecasting and terrain mapping data. Their versatility allows military branches to coordinate with other government agencies and civilian departments during natural disasters.
  • Counter-drone operations 
In addition to intelligence gathering and surveillance, drones are valuable in counter-terrorism efforts. Customizable features and attachments ranging from nets to robotic arms provide more versatility and utility during missions. With the right attachments, drones can make emergency repairs and disrupt communication relays and network nodes.

What’s Next for Drone Technology?

Commercial drones are often classified as electronic vehicles and are crucial in minimizing carbon footprints for companies. As drone technology continues improving, commercial and combat drones will significantly change in the coming years. Drones are also becoming more widespread and used outside commercial and military industries. For example, local governments worldwide are looking for drones to address challenges such as traffic congestion. Here are a few things to expect:
  • Software improvements – Artificial intelligence has been essential in drone development. Aside from adjusting flight telemetry, more sophisticated AI will provide improved mapping and imaging technology.
  • Legislation: Drones will be used more extensively in civilian functions, such as firefighting drones. Outside of these functions, legislation surrounding drones will be more comprehensive to cover all kinds of specializations.
  • Complete commercial suitability: While drones are already commercially viable, future models will have designs that comply with safety standards. Auto action and intelligent piloting are also expected to improve.
  • Platform and payload adaptability: With drones becoming more sophisticated, they are also expected to be smaller, lighter, and faster. Current developments on internal hardware are being made to overcome size, weight, and power limits.