Special Report

Every Combat Drone in Use by the US Military

Tensions have been rising between the U.S. and China over ongoing maritime territorial claims by Beijing and a recent visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, the self-governing islands China claims as its territory. Both countries have escalated their military presences in the region this year, although most of it has been flexing muscles with war games, military exercises, and displays of force rather than engaging in direct military confrontation.

China began in August escalating the deployment of drones into Taiwanese airspace. Though at first Taiwanese soldiers ignored them, there were so many that after firing several warning shots, the soldiers blasted one out of the sky, the New York Times reported. (These are 13 of the world’s top military drones.)

Unmanned aircraft have been around since the First World War, initially as a prototype radio-controlled aircraft, though they were not used during the war. The modern age of military drones really begins to take off after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the U.S. began to globally deploy large numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, in its ongoing war on terror. 

Out of the 23 types of drones currently known to be used by the U.S. military, five are produced by aerospace and defense heavyweight Northrop Grumman, which manufactures the most expensive drone in the U.S. arsenal: the $180 million, 131-foot-long MQ-4C Triton, a high-altitude, long-range surveillance aircraft commissioned into the U.S. Navy in 2018. It is one of two drones that cost more than $100 million, the other being the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Referencing a variety of resources on military technology 24/7 Wall St. listed all known unmanned aerial vehicles currently in use by the United States military. The drones are listed in alphabetical order. 

Five low-cost drones on this list are produced by a lesser-known company, AeroVironment, a publicly listed maker of small civilian and military UAVs. Its drones include the $6,000 Switchblade 300, a 5.5 pound, 2-foot-long tube-launched loitering munition (meaning a weapon system that waits passively around the target area until it is located). Also known as a kamikaze drone, Pentagon-supplied Switchblades are being used by Ukrainian forces against Russian invaders. (This is how the U.S. is arming Ukraine.)

Five U.S. military drones cost between $10 million and $60 million, including the $20 million armed Predator reconnaissance drone manufactured by General Atomics, the San Diego-based private energy and defense company.

Five U.S. military drones cost less than $50,000, such as the Coyote, made by Waltham, Massachusetts-based defense contractor Raytheon. Like the low-cost drones produced by AeroVironment, the Coyote is an expendable tube-launched “kamikaze” drone, in this case designed to intercept and destroy small attack drones like one used by Yemen-based Houthi rebels against a Saudi Arabian oil processing facility in 2019.

Here is every drone used by the U.S. military.

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