An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a motorized aerial vehicle that does not require a human operator, and is capable of autonomous or remote-controlled flight. UAVs can be disposable or retrievable, and can carry lethal or non-lethal payloads. UAVs are commonly referred to as drones, and have become increasingly popular in recent years. RAND research has contributed to the public debate about the use of drones for war and surveillance. In the case of drones that lack automation, control always lies with the pilot or operator.
Low-cost drones are typically controlled by visual tracking from the ground, while more advanced models are equipped with integrated cameras that transmit visual data to the pilot's screen. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) works with industry and communities to promote drone operations and integrate them into national airspace. The Joint Unmanned Systems Standards Development Authorities (JARUS) is responsible for the supranational oversight of UAS safety and airworthiness. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used in military operations to carry sensors, target designators, offensive devices or electronic transmitters designed to interfere or destroy enemy objectives. RAND researchers have explored the current and potential military applications of autonomous systems, focusing especially on unmanned underwater vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles. Unmanned vehicles are becoming increasingly popular for private consumption, particularly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), autonomous cars, and various types of drones.
In this report, RAND researchers examine the logistical and maintenance aspects of an emerging operating concept for employing a family of unmanned aerial vehicles that can be launched, recovered and maintained with minimal dependence on runways.