Here's a two-minute overview of how combat drones operate within the United States Air Force

Since the September 11 attacks, the United States Air Force has used unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct military strikes against violent extremist organizations. Terrorists in these violent extremist organizations, like al-Qaeda or ISIS, live under daily threat of attack from above (in the Middle East and North Africa region).


What is the proper name for a drone?

Although these eye-in-the-sky killing machines are called "remotely piloted aircraft" in military circles, to the public, these aircraft are more commonly known as combat drones or, simply, drones.


But the truth is, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, do so much more than kill targets with Hellfire missiles. That's why shows like Jack Ryan are better than traditional blockbuster films. In essence, drones have many other uses that the public does not fully comprehend or appreciate--but I hope that changes.


What are three common ways the Air Force use drones?

The Air Force uses drones to:

  1. Corroborate targets through surveillance

  2. Provide tactical situational awareness to guys/girls on the ground

  3. Conduct battle damage assessments, known as BDAs

Corroborating Targets

First, drones operate overhead with 24/7 camera feeds, allowing the remote pilot, sensor operator, and superintendent to access on-demand viewing. Further, these video feeds can help intelligence agencies corroborate targets.


Contrary to what some may assume, the surveillance allows the national security apparatus to ascertain a bad actor’s intentions more accurately. When subjects are monitored for days and have no knowledge of being watched, we can see their true motives.


Tactical Situational Awareness

Second, battles that involve on-the-ground soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria require several components to achieve victory in any situation. And, one of those ingredients is an in-depth understanding of the tactical picture, meaning situational awareness of the enemy combatant’s position.


Our soldiers and allies can more accurately maneuver if they know where the enemy is and have an understanding of whether reinforcements are arriving. This ability allows our coalition forces more opportunities to win in tactical battles, and this sight picture tilts the balance in our favor.


Battle Damage Assessments

Third, our friendly forces can launch a drone to perform battle damage assessments in an engagement's aftermath. These are pictures or videos taken and relayed back to either the tasking agency, the nearby headquarters or forward operating bases. Simply put, this analysis allows friendly forces to understand the situation's severity.


So, for example, when or if a plane crashes, it may be better to send out a drone to relay information if the terrain is inaccessible, which, in turn, mitigates the need for sending people. Not sending people also prevents putting bodies in harm's way, and drones provide video feeds that allow for better decision-making at higher headquarters.


Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, the Air Force uses combat drones for more than what the public may imagine. Do you know of other ways our military or foreign militaries, like China, use drones? If so, comment below!

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