Fastest Military Drones in the World

Updated on July 8, 2018
Savio Dawson profile image

Savio is a resident of Mumbai, India. Cars, bikes and everything fast are his passion and he writes about them on numerous reputable sites.

Introduction

Drones serve multiple needs from civilian to military use but it is the military ones which would have raw power. In this article, we will look at the military drones and their use in various missions. The one advantage of having unmanned aircraft is that the designers need not worry too much about the “G” effects and push the aircraft to its absolute limit.

So, the obvious assumption is that we will have extremely fast drones. Yes, few are, but being unmanned allows the drone to be more agile and quick (not fast) also. We will see many of them in this article. So, let’s go.

1. Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV) 2

HTV 2
HTV 2 | Source

We just spoke about the fact that while designing a drone, the designers can let their hair loose, and looking at this particular drone we feel that they just let everything loose. The Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 will be designed for a Mach 20 and greater flight. This is close to the ballistic missiles’ range, the fastest man-made object within Earth’s orbit.

  • Aircraft: Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV) 2
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: Mach 22 [16,742 mph or 26,955 kmph]
  • Range: Designed for 10,000+ km [Expected]
  • Speed Record Created: April 2010 (HTV 1)
  • Total Built: 2

The need for such a drone comes from the United States’ plan to have an hour's strike capability anywhere in the world. An aircraft, therefore, flying at Mach 20 plus will be able to do it. Now the only aspect about HTV 1 and 2 is that they both couldn’t survive the heat generated by the flight and were destroyed roughly 9 minutes into the mission. The mission was originally envisaged to be for 30 minutes. However, the flight did achieve a speed of Mach 22 and did give tons of vital information for designing such super-hypersonic flights in the near future. We will have to watch this space.

2. Lockheed SR-72

SR - 72 Artist's Impression
SR - 72 Artist's Impression | Source

Now, this is not the iconic SR-71 that we are speaking about and I did not get the call-number wrong. This is the SR-72, the younger brother of SR-71, so to say, though this aircraft will be unmanned and hence a drone. The SR-72 is expected to do a Mach 6 which is nearly twice that of the SR-71.

  • Aircraft: Lockheed SR-72
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: Mach 6 [4,566 mph or 7,351 kmph]
  • Range: Not Public yet
  • Speed Record Created: Not Public yet
  • Total Built: Expected to be in operation by 2030 (Numbers will be decided)

The SR-72 is planned to be an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Aircraft along with strike capabilities. Its genesis puts a question mark on the cold-war era logic of avoiding aircraft for reconnaissance because of ICBMs and Cruise missiles. That was the reason for the XB-70 Valkyrie becoming history even before it entered production. If so, why would the SR-72 attempt to fill a gap that never was expected to be filled? Well, it appears that in the 21st century there is a huge gap between satellite surveillance, manned aircraft, and missiles. The SR-72 is supposed to fill that gap. So, we will see a successor to the SR-71 after all.

You can read here why XB-70’s development was dropped.

3. Lockheed Martin QF - 16

F-16. Unmanned version QF-16
F-16. Unmanned version QF-16 | Source

The F-16 was a known name around the world for its fighter-bomber capabilities and there are many countries who are owners of this particular fighter. But what exactly is it doing on the list of drones? Well, once the F-16 was retired from the American Air Force’s arsenal, Boeing developed an unmanned version of it, which could do all possible maneuvers that the original aircraft could do. The only difference is that it is a UAV and not a drone. What’s the difference? Very subtle, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) still requires pilots to remotely fly it, while the drones are on their own once they take-off.

  • Aircraft: Lockheed QF - 16 [UAV version]
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: Mach 2 [1,522 mph or 2,450 kmph]
  • Range: 550 km to 4000 km [depending on the mission]
  • Speed Record Created: 1976 and multiple times during the flight
  • Total Built: 4500+ [All Versions]

Though it is a UAV, the American Airforce is planning to use it as a target for other aircraft and drones being developed. It will be designated as QF-16 and will succeed the QF-4; the QF-4 was developed from the Phantom F-4, post its retirement.

Interestingly, the F-16 is still the first strike aircraft for most nations operating it and over here, the U.S. will be using it as a target for other aircraft; says a lot about the first strike aircraft that we can see from the U.S. arsenal in the near future.

4. BAE System’s Taranis

Taranis Model
Taranis Model | Source

BAE System’s Taranis is an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) developed for the British Air Force. It will fly along with manned aircraft in future missions. The Taranis is designed for varying operational parameters like Intercontinental flight, ability to carry multiple ranges of weapons for both air and ground targets and be fast (moderately in this case).

  • Aircraft: Taranis
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Speed Record: >Mach 1 [761 mph or 1,225 kmph]
  • Range: Capable of Intercontinental Flight
  • Speed Record Created: During Testing in 2013
  • Total Built: 1 Prototype. To be operational by 2030

The operational drones will be much faster with longer range. In fact, the Taranis may find its development parameters shared and improved with another drone – Dassault Neuron – which as part of an Anglo – French treaty will lead to the development of a joint UCAV. By the way, the Taranis is a stealth aircraft, as the readers would have already figured out.

5. North Grumman X - 47 B

Source

The X-47 B is a UCAV being developed for the American Navy and therefore, has more of Carrier based operations. This is one aircraft which is not only being looked at for strike operations but also for aerial refueling operations. Aerial refueling has been an Achilles Heel for the Navy and they would mostly depend on aircraft like the Super Hornet to carry external fuels for buddy refueling. The X - 47B is in competition for taking the role of an aerial refueller, which is still ongoing, with Boeing and Lockheed being the other players. However, the UCAV capabilities have been tested and X - 47 B is the chosen model for that role.

  • Aircraft: X – 47 B
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: >Mach 0.91 [693 mph or 1,115 kmph]
  • Range: 3,900+ km
  • Speed Record Created: During Testing between 2011 and 2015
  • Total Built: 2

The X-47 B, until 2015, had undergone such extensive testing with the Navy that they now intend to hold on to them for current operations. This is contrary to the original plan of retiring these prototypes post testing and have the operational ones come in by 2020. That, in a way, also speaks about the capabilities of the X-47B.

6. Dassault Neuron

Neuron in Paris Air Show
Neuron in Paris Air Show | Source

The Dassault Neuron is an experimental UCAV being developed by France in collaboration with few countries. The intention is to come forth with a Eurofighter kind of consortium between countries. The ambitions behind the UCAV is quite high, expecting it to do better than any other UAV out there and having better range, payload, and capabilities. In the current experimental form following are the stats of the Neuron.

  • Aircraft: Dassault Neuron
  • Country: France
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.91 [693 mph or 1,115 kmph]
  • Range: Intercontinental Flight
  • Speed Record Created: During Testing in 2013
  • Total Built: 1 Prototype

One of the points about the name Neuron is that it reads as “nEUROn” to possibly denote Euro. Being an UCAV, pilots flying in manned fighters will control the Neuron. The Neuron is stealth UCAV and has a second version being developed along with the British. It is more like a Euro version and an Anglo – French version. Only time will tell if these models are going to be distinct or the same.

7. X - 45A

Source
  • Aircraft: Boeing X - 45 A
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.75 [571 mph or 919 kmph]
  • Range: 2,400+ km
  • Speed Record Created: During Testing between 2002 and 2005
  • Total Built: 2 Prototypes

8. Avenger [Predator C]

Avenger [Predator C]
Avenger [Predator C] | Source
  • Aircraft: General Atomic Avenger
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.6 [460 mph or 741 kmph]
  • Range: Intercontinental Range
  • Speed Record Created: During Testing between 2009 and 2017
  • Total Built: 3 Prototypes [Operationally Ready]

9. RQ - 4 Global Hawk

Source
  • Aircraft: Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.51 [391 mph or 630 kmph]
  • Range: 22,700+ km
  • Speed Record Created: During Service since 1998
  • Total Built: 50+

10. MQ - 9B SkyGuardian

Source
  • Aircraft: MQ -9B SkyGuardian
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.32 [242 mph or 390 kmph]
  • Range: Intercontinental
  • Speed Record Created: During Testing till 2018
  • Total Built: To enter production by 2018 end

The SkyGuardian holds the record for endurance among the Predator Series of drones. It flew nonstop for 48 hours trumping the previous record of 46 hours. What's more, it even had more than 100 liters of reserve fuel left after the flight. Wonder how much longer it could have gone!

11. Camcopter S - 100

Source
  • Aircraft: Schiebel Camcopter S - 100
  • Country: Austria
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.31 [241 mph or 388 kmph]
  • Range: 180 km
  • Speed Record Created: During Testing from 2003 to 2005
  • Total Built: 40+

12. Super Heron

Source
  • Aircraft: IAI Super Heron
  • Country: Israel
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.23 [174 mph or 280 kmph]
  • Range: 350 km
  • Speed Record Created: In 2014 by an upgraded Heron [Hence Super Heron]
  • Total Built: 100+

13. Rustom - H

Source
  • Aircraft: DRDO Rustom - H
  • Country: India
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.18 [140 mph or 225 kmph]
  • Range: 1,000 km
  • Speed Record Created: During Testing between 2009 and 2016
  • Total Built: Expected in Service by 2020

14. MQ - 1 Predator

Source
  • Aircraft: General Atomics MQ-1 Predator
  • Country: United States of America
  • Speed Record: Mach 0.18 [135 mph or 217 kmph]
  • Range: 1,100 km
  • Speed Record Created: During Operations from 1995 - 2018 [Retired in 2018]
  • Total Built: 350+

Back to the Manned Base

The UAV, UCAV or the drones, as we may call depending on the role, are pretty cool technological advances. As we speak, they are already available in the civilian version which may one day carry our groceries or orders from Amazon home. When there are peaceful versions of any technology, I find it difficult to understand why we need a combative one? That said, till humanity finds the answer let’s drool over the speed these machines can achieve!

Which Drone/UAV supercharged your imagination?

See results

© 2018 Savio Koman

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