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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV/UAS)

UAV systems tested at Yuma Proving Grounds.

Arizona serves as a hub for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)/Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) industry. A UAV or UAS refers to aircraft with no pilot on board. These can be remote controlled aircraft (e.g. flown by a pilot at a ground control station) or can fly autonomously based on pre-programmed flight plans or more complex dynamic automation systems.

The acronym UAV has been expanded in some cases to UAVS (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle System). The FAA has adopted the acronym UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) to reflect the fact that these complex systems include ground stations and other elements besides the actual air vehicles. UAS come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and serve diverse purposes. They may have a wingspan as large as a Boeing 737 or smaller than a radio-controlled model airplane. A pilot on the ground is always in charge of UAS operations.

The military role of the UAS is growing at unprecedented rates. UASs no longer only perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, although this still remains their predominant type. Their roles have expanded to areas including electronic attack (EA), strike missions, suppression and/or destruction of enemy air defense (SEAD/DEAD), network node or communications relay, combat search and rescue (CSAR), and derivations of these themes.  UAVs and UASs range in cost from a few thousand dollars to tens of millions of dollars, and the aircraft used in these systems range in size from a Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) weighing less than one pound to large aircraft weighing over 40,000 pounds.

Until recently, UASs mainly supported military and security operations, but that is rapidly changing. Unmanned aircraft promise new ways to increase efficiency, save money, enhance safety and even save lives. Interest is growing in a broad range of uses such as aerial photography, surveying land and crops, monitoring forest fires and environmental conditions, and protecting borders and ports.

Spotlight: Nort​hrop Grumman

An armed Fire Scout is tested at the Yuma Proving Ground. The MQ-8B Fire Scout has the ability to autonomously take off and land on any aviation-capable warship and at prepared and unprepared landing zones. UAS come in all shapes and sizes, with both fixed and rotary wings.

Northrop Grumman is a premier developer, integrator, producer and supporter of manned and unmanned aircraft, spacecraft, high-energy laser systems, microelectronics and other systems and subsystems critical to maintaining the nation’s security and leadership in science and technology. These systems are used, primarily by government customers, in many different mission areas including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; communications; battle management; strike operations; electronic warfare; missile defense; earth observation; space science; and space exploration.

Strategic systems include space-based payloads that provide critical worldwide military communications; the B-2 bomber that, flying stealthy strike missions from its base in Missouri, can reach targets anywhere in the world; and the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, a satellite constellation that will enable precise tracking of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight.

Theater systems include the Global Hawk, a high-altitude surveillance UAV that has been the leading provider of situational awareness data in Afghanistan and Iraq; Joint STARS aircraft that provide advanced targeting and battle management capabilities; the E-2C Hawkeye airborne battle management aircraft, which has been managing air operations and providing tactical information to ground combat troops in Iraq and controlled air rescue activities in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and the F-35 Lightning II that all U.S. military services are acquiring as their primary next-generation fighter aircraft. Recently, Luke Air Force Base was selected at the training site of three F-35 units.

Tactical systems include the Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing UAVs that will carry out local operations from onboard the next-generation Littoral Combat Ship, and the Skyguard ground-based laser for local missile defense at airports.

Space science and earth observation systems range even further: the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System constellation will monitor the Earth’s atmosphere, while the James Webb Space Telescope, from its viewing orbit a million miles from Earth, will show us the origins of our universe, studying galaxies billions of light-years away.