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The Role of Electric Drones in Military Applications

Since the start of the decade, electric drones have proved to be a versatile and absolutely essential element in any national armory. First, in a major flare-up of the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict and later on the Ukrainian front lines, electric drones have developed rapidly in multiple roles. They can add significant capabilities to all military branches, and their rapid development and adaptation to battlefield conditions has already changed the face of modern warfare.


In this blog, we’ll look at how drones have become so important in military applications, the different types of electric drones now deployed, and their roles in the battlefield.



Why Electric Drones Have Become a Combat Essential


The first concept of drones (i.e., unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) can be traced back centuries, if not millennia, such as the Chinese paper lanterns designed to descend and combust on enemy camps. In recent decades, the US DoD, in particular, has invested a lot in the research and development of “surgical strike” UAVs, resulting in combat drones such as the Predator and Reaper. These fixed-wing drones can carry large payloads and fly long distances at high altitudes. However, they are also costly to develop, produce, and command. 


The development of lighter, cheaper, medium-altitude combat UAVs, such as the Turkish Bayraktar TB2, led to an expansion of the role of mass-produced combat drones, followed by the rise in extremely cheap electric drones. The reasons for the very sudden growth in the use of drones mainly comes down to the following:


Electric Propulsion


While large long-distance drones such as the MQ-9 (Reaper) use energy-dense fossil fuels, this limits where and how they can be used. In line with the development of civilian recreational drones, using electric propulsion powered by lithium-ion batteries has broadened the potential users of electric military drones. This allows small units in the field to carry, command, and recharge drones on the move.


Materials 


Military drones must be as lightweight as possible and durable enough to survive small-arms fire or anti-drone actions (including kites or large raptors). Advances in producing hardy but light composite materials, such as carbon fiber and Kevlar, have allowed drone manufacturers to build low and medium-altitude drones that have reduced radar cross-sections, are more resistant to impact damage, and require lower propulsion. Thus, they also reduce their noise output, enhancing their survivability. 


Communications Technology


The rapid expansion in civilian communication technologies, such as 4G and 5G, has been united with existing military satellite and local radio-wave communications to improve drone operators' control over even very simple drones at long distances. This, again, gives operators on the ground greater capacity to use drones for multiple purposes as needs arise, reducing the need for inter-unit communications on objectives. 


These improvements have also become available to civilian purchasers at low prices, meaning that, in Ukraine, for example, units can source highly functional combat drones that can easily be adapted to their needs for anywhere between $500 and $10,000.





Types of Electric Drones


Reconnaissance


Also known as surveillance or ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), these drones use high-res cameras, infrared sensors, and other reconnaissance technologies to observe the enemy. The drones can move and seek out or sit above positions, feeding real-time imagery or other data to command units. These electric drones are useful for situational awareness, intelligence gathering, target acquisition, and battle damage assessment.


Combat


While “drone strikes” from purposefully developed attack drones such as the MQ-1 (Predator) and MQ-9 are a commonly understood action even in civilian parlance, the modern combat drone plays quite a different role. Limited by size, payloads may not be large guided missiles but modified grenades, mortar, or RPG rounds that are dropped on enemies below. The drone itself may also become a guided weapon when used as a “suicide drone” and driven, with its payload, into enemy vehicles or artillery.


Electric combat drones also play a significant role in assisting artillery units with their aim, allowing for triangulation of sight markers and immediate assessment of accuracy. 


Cargo


Electric drones also play a significant role in battlefield logistics, with their ability to resupply positions quickly and under very challenging circumstances. This is especially true for medical or ammunition supplies or even drones themselves. 



Conclusion


While the concept of drones isn’t new, the development of cheap and lightweight, yet durable and easy-to-control electric drones has seen them become an ever-present entity on the modern battlefield. Recent conflicts have shown that electric drones have a broad spectrum of possible military applications, including observation, target acquisition, aim adjustment, dropping of explosives, and battlefield resupply. 


The increased use of electric drones on the battlefield also requires portable electrical infrastructure for recharging in the field. At Enercon, we have worked hard to develop the Mobile Tactical Battlefield Recharger (MTBR), a highly portable energy generation and distribution unit that can move with units as they do.


To find out more about the MTBR and how we can provide electrical solutions for military applications, reach out to our team today. 

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