Three Military Drones flying alongside.

Military Drones: A Simple and Detailed Guide 2023

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

Drones have been in operation for many years now. Their initial use was in 1839 during a war in the City of Venice. The father of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) was Sir George Cayley. Over the years, many drones have been developed with different capabilities. 

More and more countries and military forces are using them in their everyday activities. 

The four main types of drones are:

  • Single-Rotor Drones
  • Fixed-Wing Drones
  • Multi-Rotor Drones
  • Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOL.

However, the other classifications are based on their size and range and include small, very small, medium, and large drones. We also have close, medium, and high-range classifications. 

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper stands out as the most advanced military drone. 

Military drones work through remote operation; sometimes, the pilots guide them autonomously or using both ways. 

In search of more information? Keep reading, as here is a detailed guide on military drones. 

What Are the 4 Types of Drones Used By the Military?

Like any other drone, military drones feature different capabilities, which dictate their uses, pros, and cons. Below, we shall look at the four main drone types. 

Type of DronePros ConsPurpose
Fixed-Wing DronesGreat for high payload Excellence flight speed More flight time Stable during windsPilots need to be professionals Needs a bigger landing space Have no hover/ VTOL feature Are highly pricedSurveillance Aerial mapping 
Multi-Rotor DronesHighly portable Pilots able to easily control and maneuver them Affordable Have VTOL/hover Lower payload capabilities Minimal stability during windy days Shorter flying time Flight speeds are lower
Aerial photography and inspection
Single-Rotor DronesFeatures high endurance Endures heavy payloads VTOL/hover flight modeNeeds highly skilled pilots Highly dangerous ExpensiveLiDAR laser scanning
Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOLFlight endurance is longer Payload capability is high Moves fast Hover and VTOL capabilities availableNeeds highly skilled pilots Highly pricedUtility inspection Search and Rescue missions Inspections
Different Types of Military Drones

Fixed-Wing Drones:

The military uses fixed-wing drones to conduct utility inspections and surveillance. However, these same drones are used commercially for aerial mapping and agricultural purposes. 

Some primary reasons why fixed-wing drones are great for military tasks include their high flying speed and ability to carry heavy payloads. Besides, they have better and excellent stability during harsh weather, for example, during strong winds, not to mention their flight time is longer, unlike most other drones. 

Nonetheless, due to their capabilities, fixed-wing drones have a higher cost.

Another drawback of this type of drone is the need for more landing space due to the long wings. Plus, pilots need more training to fly them effectively. Sadly, they also do not have a VTOL/hover feature.  

Fixed Wing Drone on the field
Fixed Wing Drone

Multi-Rotor Drones:

Though multi-rotor drones have other uses, such as aerial photography and landing surveying, their everyday use in the military lines is aerial inspection.

Multi-Rotor drones are lowly priced than fixed-wing drones, multi-rotor drones are smaller and are easier to carry around. 

Moreover, pilots do not need much training as they are easier to maneuver and control. One primary advantage of these drones is that they feature the hover and VTOL flight modes. 

However, these may not be the best drones to use in the military fields when the weather is not conducive, for example, during windy days, as they may fly away. Their stability may also be minimal under such conditions. 

Other significant drawbacks of multi-rotor drones include short flying time, payload capabilities, and low flight speeds.


DJI Agras T20 spraying pesticide on crops
DJI AGRAS T20 is a multi-rotor drone

Single-Rotor Drones:

Requiring highly experienced pilots, single-rotor drones are among the most dangerous military drones.

Gas-powered single-rotor drones have high endurance capabilities. Their payload capabilities are also high, and they have VTOL and hover flight capabilities. 

Though the pilots need more training to control and maneuver these hard-to-fly single-rotor drones, military officers use them in Aerial LiDAR laser scanning (LiDAR). 

This type is, however, expensive.

Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOL:

Highly used in the military field for utility inspection, search and rescue missions, and surveillance, fixed-wing hybrid VTOL is highly expensive. They have longer endurance flight capability and feature a great heavy payload. 

They rightly fit in the military forces because they have an incredibly high speed which also makes their prices to shoot.

An added advantage is that they have hover and VTOL features. 

Pilots, however, need more training to fly safely without causing accidents.

A Flying Fixed Wing Hybrid VTOL drone.
Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOL

Drone Size:

Size is another vital factor when classifying drones. Due to their various purposes and the need to keep their surveillance concealed as much as possible, military drones come in very small, small, medium, and large sizes. 

Very Small Drones:

Featuring a length of 150 mm and a weight of 200 grams (or less for both), these drones are easy to fly without people seeing them.

The diameter of their propellers stands at 51 mm, but some feature smaller sizes. Pilots maneuvering them may only need a little training. 

Small Drones:

Featuring a higher length and more weight than very small drones, small drones’ propellers measure around 76 to 152 mm. Their weight can range between 200 and 1000 grams while the length can be approximately 300 mm.

Military use them for indoor purposes, for example, during the training of new military officers to survey their activities during the sessions. Inspecting equipment in storage facilities is their other use. 

Medium Drones:

These drones are used to capture aerial photographs for evidence. In addition, they are also ideal for collecting data during disasters, among other situations.

Medium drones can be 300 to 1200 mm long and weigh anywhere between 1 and 20 kg. On the other hand, the width of their propellers ranges between 150 and 640 mm. 

Large Drones:

Though their application includes surveillance, large drones have higher capabilities than others. Since they have better capabilities in terms of power, their application also includes civil wars.

They are 120 cm long and weigh around 20 kg and above. The propeller’s width is 6 cm, but very powerful. It is vital to note that the weight and dimensions of large drones could increase based on how big the drone is. 

Below, we shall categorize drones according to their payload capabilities.

Payload Capabilities:

First, military drones may have a payload capacity of 550 or more. It boils down to their purposes and their size.

Take, for example, the large ones. They weigh not less than 160 kg or even more and are heavy lifts (much on these later).

Based on payload capabilities, we shall classify our drones below.

Heavy-Lift Drones:

Majorly used for surveillance purposes by the military, heavy-lift drones weigh no more than 11 grams. 

Their payload capacity ranges from 4 to 100 grams. Some of their major applications include but are not limited to: 

  • Weaponized payloads
  • Delivery of weapons
  • ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance)
DJI Matrice 600 drone
DJI Matrice 600 is one of the best heavy lift drones

Lightweight Drones:

Having a payload capacity of 150 to 200 grams, lightweight drones’ applications include:

  • Surveillance of war zones
  • Strategic and operational reconnaissance

Since these drones do have more capabilities, their applications in the war zones could also include firing munitions among other roles. Since they are lightweight, these drones weigh approximately 200 to 1000 grams. 

Middleweight Drones:

Weighing around 600 grams or below, the military forces use middleweight drones for surveillance and, at times, combat.

So, this category of drones could be ideal whenever the military wants to gather information by recording videos or shooting photos. 

Their payload capacity starts at 400 to 1460 grams.

Featherweight Drones:

Featuring an extremely light weight of about 11 grams, featherweight drones could be ideal in areas where the military wants zero disclosure of their presence. 

Their payload capacity is equally low as it ranges between 4 and 100 grams. Their prices could be much lesser since they do not have top-notch engines.

Drone Range:

The range for military drones can be high based on their tasks; for example, while some have a range of 50 km, others can go up to 200 or more.

A good example would be the MALE drone, which has a long endurance. It features a 200 km range at 30000 feet. 

With an altitude of 10,000 feet, the NATO type has a range of 50 KM. 

The drone ranges are:

  • Mid-range
  • Long range
  • Very close range
  • Close range 
  • Short range
European Male Drone
European Male Drone


Its major use is surveillance and combat. Despite being a mid-range drone, it has a 24-hour flight time and a flight distance of 644 km.  

Their minimum flight altitude is 12000 feet, while the highest is 30,000 feet. They may not be very expensive, so most countries can afford them. 

Long Range:

Definitely, long ranges have better capabilities than other ranges and are more expensive. Featuring a range of 644 km, long-range has a high flight time of not less than 24 hours. Their major uses in the military field include surveillance. 

The military also uses it for espionage whenever they need critical information. Their high range capability makes their prices high. 

Very Close Range:

Though these drones’ application includes recreation by civilians; the military also uses them for surveillance. This is because they feature a high flying speed. Their flight distance stands at 5 km. 

Despite their speed, their flight time is only one hour. Changing their batteries could probably make them last longer.

Close Range:

With a flight time of 1 to 6 hours, close-range drones have a flight distance of up to 50 km.

However, powerful batteries can fly for longer hours, at least up to 8 hours.  

Their primary use is surveillance. However, their other application includes aerial photography. 


Forget about their short range; these drones do surveillance on a large scale. With 8 to 12 hours of flight time, short-range drones’ application includes utility inspection, and their flight distance stands at 150 km. 

What Are the Major Components of a Drone?

Military drones have the following components to aid in the functions they are meant for. 

  • Frame
  • Motor
  • Battery
  • Propellers
  • Radio Receiver and Transmitter
  • Flight Controller (FC)
  • ESC (Electronic Speed Controller).
Infographic about different parts of a drone
Parts of a drone

Starting with the initial one, let us go through these components. 

Strong Frames:

Due to their use, military drones have better resistance to aerodynamics.

Besides, since most are meant to operate even under bad weather conditions, they are sturdy and pricier. 

Such drones could withstand strong winds and be more stable. However, you also pay for such features when buying drones.

Drones used by the military feature high-notch cameras, which are likely to add more weight.

Consequently, their frames are built to withstand such weight as well as that of the propeller momentum, not to mention the additional features’ weight. 


The intended use of the military drone determines the type of engine it will use. Some drones, for example, may use piston engines, while others use turbojet or turbofan. Still, others use turboprop engines. 

Those using the piston engine may be ideal for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes. Such have a lower speed, and they fly at a medium-low altitude.

Turboprop, on the other hand, is ideal for medium to high altitude. They have longer endurance capabilities, and their take-off weight is higher than Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. For medium and high-altitude military drones, turbojet engines are ideal. 

So, drones used by military officers may have low, medium, or high-power engines based on their purposes. 

If the drone has a powerful motor, then it has the potential to carry heavy loads.  


Did you know that most military drones last 6 to 8 hours? Such a drone battery keeps the drones in the air long enough for military officers to get all the necessary information. So, these drones use lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries with incredibly high-power capacity. 


Fast-moving military drones feature short propellers. Such drones can also rotate quickly when a need arises. On the other hand, drones featuring long propellers can carry heavy loads without affecting their functionality.

What is more? Since they do not have long propellers; these drones fly at a lower speed, but they are still great for several tasks.

How much lift the drone propeller generates determines whether it can carry heavy loads.

Radio Receiver and Transmitter:

Military drones do lots of communication based on their purposes in ensuring security and conducting rescue missions, among others. So, their receivers and transmitters must be highly effective and top-notch to ensure there is no breakdown of communication. 

So, while the transmitter sends the signals to the pilot so that he can have good control of the motor speed, the receiver receives the signals from the pilot. 

Flight Controller (FC):

Like any other drone, military drones have an FC, which enables excellent balance during flights.

In addition, the FC is the computer processor responsible for telecommunication controls. To achieve this task, they have various transmitters. 

The FC features sensors suitable for the barometer, GPS, accelerometer, and gyrometer as well as the magnetometer. 

ESC (Electronic Speed Controller)

This drone part is tasked with the conversion of signals to the Revolution Per Minted, abbreviated as RPM, from the flight controller. It may also be called the dynamic drone brake, connecting the drone battery to the motor.

Consequently, there is a sufficient supply of power which is ideal for the flights.


What types of drones does the US military use?

The US uses several types of drones, one of which is MQQ-1 predator UAVS. These and other powerful drones have been used when targeting highly dangerous terrorists who are also likely dangerous terrorist leaders. 

Does the military use small drones?

Yes, military drones use small drones. However, due to their size, small drones may be used locally to provide the military with situational awareness. Regardless of their sizes, they provide clear images and videos to the military operator.  

They are portable and can fit in your hand. With batteries, their weight stands at 18 grams, measuring only 16 by 2.5 cm. However, there are many small drones, so their sizes may vary. 

What size are military drones?

There is no one size for military drones. While some could be small, others could be very small, and others are large.

For example, while some drones are incredibly small and weigh only 0.2 kg, others are big and weigh about 14 950 pounds.

The military may sometimes want to conceal their spying activities. They may want to use the quietest and smallest drone in such cases. Other times, they may want to use, for example, bombs to attack terrorists’ residences.

Such cases need drones such as R18 octocopter. 


The above-detailed guide on military drones gives a better understanding of the types of military drones military officers worldwide use in their line of duty. Basing the use of their drones on the size, payload, and range, you could find small, very small, and large drones.

The sizes and functionality of these drones also determine their prices and quality. 

However, drones may still be categorized further based on their power source. Additionally, the equipment they use, and their capabilities are other classifications used when classifying military drones. 

Not forgetting that the components in these drones also top up their quality, cost, and size.


Article Name
Military Drones: A Simple and Detailed Guide
This guide covers all the details and information about Military Drones.
Publisher Name
Remoteflyer Private Limited.
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