There's a reason that drone aircraft have become so closely associated with military action, and it's not just because the idea of remotely piloted planes makes the U.S. armed forces seem really high-tech. The truth is that, over the last six years, America's military has grown its number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from 5% to more than 30% of its total aircraft.
According to a new Congressional report, the country's military now has 7,494 drone aircraft in use, compared to 10,767 traditional, manned planes. The Army accounts for most of the drones: 5,346 of the tiny (4 lb) RQ-11 Raven, pictured, to be specific. Most of the others are the infamous Predator and its larger sibling, the Reaper, although there are a few specialized vehicles — such as the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone captured by Iran — in service.
The report also says that accidents involving drones are down since 2005, from 20 per 100,000 hours of flight to 7.5 during the same period — this despite incidents like the one that saw some drones infected by a computer virus. Despite their reliability, the report indicates that drones will likely see their use for reconnaissance drop in coming years as blimps capable of carrying more (and heavier) spy equipment come into wider use.
The need for faster and more nimble combat drones will likely only climb, though, with the Air Force specifically mentioned as having a sound barrier smashing "super/hypersonic" remote fighter already in development.
[Image credit: Wikimedia Commons]
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