UAV Platform Categories
The US Air Force, US Army, and US Marine Corps each categorize UAV platforms into different sets of tiers. Tiers are used to differentiate UAVs by size, speed, flight ceiling, functionality, and capabilities. What follows is an explanation for each branch’s system of tiers along with UAV Business Review’s attempt at unifying the three systems into an all-encompassing set of categories to be used for classifying UAV platforms.
US Air Force
The Air Force categorizes UAV platforms in five tiers as follows:
- Tier N/A: Small/Micro
- Tier I: Low altitude, long endurance
- Tier II: Medium altitude, long endurance (MALE)
- Tier II+: High altitude, long endurance conventional UAV (or HALE UAV). Complementary to the Tier III aircraft
- Tier III: High altitude, long endurance low-observable UAV. Same parameters as, and complementary to, the Tier II+ aircraft
The Army categorizes UAV platforms in three tiers as follows:
- Tier I: Small UAVs
- Tier II: Short Range Tactical UAVs
- Tier III: Medium Range Tactical UAVs
US Marine Corps
The Marines categorize UAV platforms in four tiers as follows:
- Tier N/A: Micro UAVs
- Tier I: Small UAVs (hand-launched)
- Tier II: Small Tactical UAVs
- Tier III: Formerly the RQ-2 Pioneer
In order to better organize the site and bring clarity to UAV classifications, the site places UAV platforms into the following categories:
Low-altitude, low-endurance small/micro UAVs which can be hand-launched. Category I includes AeroVironment’s family of small UAVs and similar competing platforms.
Sample Category I UAV – AeroVironment’s Raven B:
Low-to-medium altitude, long-endurance ISR platforms. Category II includes Boeing’s flagship ScanEagle and Integrator platforms, AAI’s Shadow, and similar competing UAVs.
Sample Category II UAV – Boeing / Insitu Integrator (STUAS Tier II Contract Winner):
Medium-to-high altitude, long-endurance ISR and Hunter/Killer platforms. Examples include GA-ASI’s Predator and Reaper UAVs, the MQ-5B Hunter, the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, and similar competing platforms.
Sample Category III UAV – GA-ASI’s MQ-9 Reaper:
Large, high-altitude, long-endurance UAV platforms. Includes large ISR platforms like Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, prototype UCAVs such as Boeing’s Phantom Ray and Northrop Grumman’s X-47B, and GA-ASI’s in-development Avenger UAV.
Sample Category IV UAV – Northrop Grumman’s X-47B UCAV (animated simulation):