In the ever-evolving landscape of modern warfare, the efficiency and effectiveness of logistics play a crucial role in determining the success of military operations. Traditionally, resupplying soldiers, ships, and submarines in the midst of battle has been a complex and challenging task. However, a game-changing solution is on the horizon: military cargo drones. These unmanned aerial vehicles are poised to revolutionize battlefield logistics by providing swift and reliable resupply capabilities to the frontlines, as well as maritime forces operating at sea. In this article, we will delve into the potential of military cargo drones and explore how they are set to transform the way soldiers, ships, and submarines are resupplied in future conflicts.
Enhancing Battlefield Logistics:
Military commanders have come to understand that victory is closely related to having sufficient units, soldiers, weapons, and supplies at the right time and place—logistics, in other words, has become a critical part of military operations. Historically, superior logistical capabilities have given a competitive advantage to militaries. Tactical logistics is sustaining the units at a tactical level with necessary supplies such as weapons, ammunition, fuel, rations, and providing services like maintenance and medical aid.
One of the big differences between business and military logistics is that the military conducts logistics operations in hostile areas and supports troops on the move. Obviously, carrying out military logistics operations in terrains that are exposed to the enemy would cause security challenges and bigger uncertainties that can disrupt operational effectiveness.
The introduction of military cargo drones brings a paradigm shift to battlefield logistics. These unmanned aerial vehicles are designed to transport essential supplies, ammunition, medical equipment, and other critical resources directly to the frontlines, reducing the risks and challenges associated with traditional supply chains. By bypassing the need for ground-based transportation or risky helicopter missions, cargo drones offer a faster, safer, and more efficient method of resupplying soldiers in the heat of battle.
Military Cargo drones
Unmanned Aerial systems have been extensively employed by militaries in operations such as reconnaissance, surveillance, and armed attacks. Changing economic conditions and advances in technology are now enabling unmanned systems employed to support logistic operations. Considering the historical and potential benefits of unmanned technology in both civilian and military sectors, using this technology in military logistics would prove valuable in reducing costs, taking more risks with fewer casualties, increasing capacity and speeding up delivery processes.
Military cargo drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are used by military forces for transporting supplies, equipment, and ammunition. They can be remotely operated and have the ability to fly to remote or difficult-to-reach locations, making them ideal for military operations. Military cargo drones come in a variety of sizes and designs, ranging from small, handheld units to large, heavy-lift drones capable of carrying several tons of cargo. They have proven to be valuable assets for military logistics and have been widely adopted by many armed forces around the world.
In addition to transportation, military cargo drones can also be equipped with various sensors and cameras for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. They can gather real-time intelligence and provide troops with a detailed view of the battlefield, helping to increase situational awareness and decision-making capabilities.
Another advantage of military cargo drones is their ability to operate in hazardous environments, such as in disaster zones, contaminated areas, and conflict zones, where it may not be safe for human personnel. They can also be used to deliver critical medical supplies and equipment, including vaccines, medicines, and emergency response kits, in emergency situations.
Despite the benefits of military cargo drones, they are also vulnerable to hacking and jamming, as well as being shot down by enemy fire. To mitigate these risks, many military cargo drones are equipped with advanced security features, such as encryption and anti-jamming technologies, to protect their payloads and sensitive information.
Overall, military cargo drones play a vital role in modern military operations, providing a flexible and efficient means of transporting goods and equipment, gathering intelligence, and supporting humanitarian efforts.
Resupplying Naval Forces:
Beyond supporting ground troops, military cargo drones are also poised to revolutionize maritime logistics. Ships and submarines operating in remote and hostile environments often face challenges in accessing necessary supplies. Cargo drones have the potential to overcome these obstacles by delivering vital provisions directly to naval vessels. Whether it’s replenishing ammunition stocks, delivering spare parts, or transporting medical supplies, cargo drones can ensure a continuous and timely resupply chain for naval forces, regardless of their location.
China successfully tests ‘world’s largest cargo drone in Oct 2018
In October 2018, China achieved a significant milestone in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with the successful testing of the Feihong-98 (FH-98), touted as the ‘world’s largest’ cargo drone. Developed and modified by the China Academy of Aerospace Electronics Technology, the FH-98 showcases impressive capabilities, including a remarkable payload capacity of 1.5 tonnes (1,500 kg). This behemoth UAV boasts a maximum takeoff weight of 5.25 tonnes (5,250 kg) and an impressive range of 1,200 km. With a flying altitude of 4.5 km and a cruising speed of 180 kmph, the FH-98 is poised to make a significant impact in the realm of aerial logistics.
The FH-98, adapted from the Shifei Y5B transport plane prototype, represents a remarkable feat of engineering and innovation. The Shifei Y5B, China’s first fully domestically-built transport aircraft, carries a storied history of over 60 years since its maiden flight in 1957 and has been widely utilized in various capacities. Leveraging this existing platform, the China Academy of Aerospace Electronics Technology has successfully transformed it into a powerful cargo drone capable of handling substantial payloads.
The successful test flight of the FH-98 took place at the Baotou test site in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, a testament to China’s commitment to advancing UAV technology. This achievement signifies China’s growing prowess in the field of unmanned systems and highlights their dedication to pushing the boundaries of aerial logistics capabilities.
The implications of the FH-98’s capabilities are vast and far-reaching. With its immense payload capacity and impressive range, the FH-98 holds immense potential in various sectors. From supporting disaster relief efforts by swiftly transporting critical supplies to remote areas to aiding in large-scale infrastructure projects, this cargo drone opens up new possibilities for efficient and rapid transportation of goods. Additionally, the FH-98 has the potential to revolutionize military logistics, providing a reliable and agile means of delivering supplies to remote and inaccessible regions, enhancing the operational capabilities of armed forces.
While the successful test flight of the FH-98 is undoubtedly a momentous achievement, it is important to acknowledge that further research and development will be crucial to maximize its potential. Ensuring the seamless integration of the FH-98 into existing logistical frameworks, addressing safety concerns, and refining its performance will be vital for its widespread adoption and utilization.
China’s breakthrough in developing the world’s largest cargo drone underscores the nation’s commitment to advancing UAV technology. The FH-98’s impressive payload capacity, extended range, and adaptability make it a game-changer in the realm of aerial logistics. As China continues to invest in the development of unmanned systems, we can expect further advancements in the field, ushering in a new era of efficient and transformative transportation capabilities.
Heavy-lifting Russian drones could resupply soldiers on future battlefields
At the annual MAKS-2021 arms show, Rostec, the renowned Russian defense corporation, unveiled its ambitious plan to develop a fleet of heavy-lifting cargo drones, poised to revolutionize resupply operations on future battlefields. One of the notable announcements was the intention to create a cargo drone capable of carrying an impressive payload of up to 2,200 lbs (1,000 kg).
The significance of these cargo drones lies in their pivotal role in modern military operations. Before engaging in combat, armies must ensure the timely delivery of essential supplies to the frontlines. While the initial attack may have well-established logistics in place, resupplying critical resources such as ammunition and rations becomes a challenging task. This is where cargo drones can play a vital role.
Rostec is already actively involved in the development of smaller cargo drones. The VRT 300, introduced at MAKS in 2017, has a capacity of up to 154 lbs (70 kg), while the recently announced BAS-200 is designed to carry 110 lbs (50 kg). These drones prove valuable in urgent situations, particularly for transporting compact life-saving cargoes like medical supplies. However, to establish drones as regular resupply vehicles, it is essential to increase their payload capacity significantly.
Building upon the success of the BAS-200, Rostec plans to develop a version capable of carrying up to 440 lbs (200 kg). Subsequently, their ultimate objective is to create a heavy-lifting cargo drone capable of hauling a remarkable 2,200 lbs (1,000 kg). If successfully achieved, Russia will possess a drone that can not only deliver vital essentials in critical situations but also undertake long-haul resupply missions, making airborne resupply operations feasible.
The potential implications of these heavy-lifting cargo drones are profound. With their enhanced payload capacity, they can transport substantial amounts of supplies, reinforcing military units in dire need. These drones have the capability to resupply troops operating in remote or inaccessible areas swiftly and efficiently. Moreover, by reducing reliance on traditional ground-based logistics, cargo drones can enhance the agility and flexibility of military operations, ensuring soldiers remain adequately equipped.
It is important to recognize that the development of such advanced cargo drones poses technological challenges that need to be overcome. Ensuring the drones’ reliability, addressing safety concerns, optimizing flight range, and integrating them seamlessly into existing logistical frameworks will require substantial research and development efforts. Nonetheless, Rostec’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of cargo drone capabilities highlights their determination to transform battlefield logistics.
As Rostec endeavors to create heavy-lifting cargo drones, the landscape of military resupply operations is set to witness a significant transformation. The prospect of a drone capable of handling substantial loads not only reinforces the last-minute delivery of crucial supplies but also enables sustained long-haul missions. By harnessing the potential of these advanced drones, Russia aims to enhance its military capabilities and pave the way for more efficient and effective resupply operations on future battlefields.
Turkey to use cargo drones for logistics, with production to begin in 2021
Turkey is set to revolutionize its military logistics operations with the introduction of cargo drones, as part of a broader strategy to integrate unmanned systems into its arsenal. Developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), these cargo drones are poised to provide crucial support to combat units in various regions, including northern Iraq and northern Syria.
TAI’s innovative Vertical Landing and Take-off Cargo UAV project aims to swiftly and securely address the Turkish Armed Forces’ logistical requirements in challenging terrains, particularly mountainous regions. With the ability to vertically take off and land, these cargo drones are specifically designed to overcome the obstacles posed by rugged landscapes.
In June 2018, the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), Turkey’s procurement authority, initiated a program to acquire cargo drones with vertical landing and takeoff capabilities, and TAI emerged as the winning contractor. The serial production of these drones is slated to commence in 2021, signaling Turkey’s commitment to enhancing its military capabilities through advanced unmanned systems.
According to SSB President Ismail Demir, the implementation of cargo UAV systems will significantly improve the delivery of crucial supplies such as weapons, ammunition, medical equipment, and other essential resources to security forces on the battlefield. These cargo drones have the capability to swiftly transport payloads of up to 50 kilograms, enabling efficient logistic support for troops operating in combat zones, particularly in challenging mountainous areas.
The deployment of cargo drones in military logistics offers several advantages. Notably, they enable the rapid and secure transportation of vital resources, even in adverse weather conditions. The drones’ versatility and maneuverability make them particularly effective in delivering supplies to remote or inaccessible locations, ensuring that troops remain well-equipped and supported during critical operations.
Turkey’s commitment to incorporating cargo drones into its military logistics framework demonstrates its proactive approach to leveraging cutting-edge technology for operational efficiency and effectiveness. As the drones enter serial production in 2021, they are expected to bolster the Turkish Armed Forces’ capabilities, enabling enhanced resupply operations and logistics support for troops deployed in combat zones.
By harnessing the potential of cargo drones, Turkey aims to optimize the delivery of essential resources, ultimately enhancing the overall effectiveness and success of its military operations. As these unmanned systems become a core component of Turkey’s military logistics, they have the potential to transform the way supplies are transported and delivered, providing crucial support to troops in various challenging environments.
US Navy eyes programme of record for cargo drones to resupply ships
The US Navy is exploring the use of cargo drones for resupplying ships, aiming to establish a program of record for this purpose. In a proof-of-concept test conducted in February 2021, the Skyways UAV successfully moved lightweight logistical equipment from a maintenance center in Virginia to the USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier. Subsequently, a ship-to-ship demonstration took place in July, where cargo was transferred between the USS Bainbridge and the USNS Joshua Humphrey.
The US Navy has recognized the potential benefits of using smaller unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to handle logistical tasks traditionally carried out by helicopters or through wire and hose transfers. These UAVs, such as the Skyways drone developed by startup Skyways, can efficiently transport cargo, particularly considering that about 80% of logistical deliveries in the fleet consist of items weighing less than 10 lbs (4.5 kg).
Additional experiments involving different UAV models and longer-range flights are planned. Volansi, another startup, showcased its VTOL drones’ capabilities in carrying cargo between a naval ship and a US Coast Guard Cutter. The US Navy has also tested cargo delivery to a submarine using a large quadcopter.
Recently, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) conducted a unique mission at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, employing unmanned vehicles to transport supplies weighing less than 50 lbs. These unmanned systems demonstrated their ability to deliver cargo over long distances, including ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and shore-to-ship scenarios.
The US Navy is actively exploring the integration of unmanned logistics into its operations. The success of these cargo drones’ demonstrations and the recognition of their potential as critical enablers of naval operations indicate a growing interest in unmanned logistics within the military. Continued experimentation, operational considerations, and technology deployment to benefit sailors are key areas of focus for future development.
The envisioned cargo drones are designed for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities, enabling their operation from naval ships at sea and stations ashore. The objective is to establish efficient logistics support systems that eliminate the need for dedicated launch and recovery equipment, enhancing the Navy’s operational capabilities in various environments.
Army Testing Drones for Medical Logistics reported in Jan 2022
The US Army is actively testing drones and autonomous technology with the potential to revolutionize medical logistics on the battlefield. In August, Pittsburgh-based Near Earth Autonomy partnered with L3Harris to conduct test flights at Fort Pickett, Virginia. The integration of Near Earth’s autonomous flight systems onto the L3Harris FVR-90 hybrid vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle showcased the drone’s ability to transport life-saving medical supplies across long distances.
During the test flights, the FVR-90 equipped with Near Earth’s autonomous systems underwent various scenarios to assess its capability to deliver supplies. Near Earth’s sensors efficiently identified suitable landing areas for the drone, ensuring safe and precise deliveries. In cases where landing was not feasible, the supplies were either dropped from a low altitude or released with parachutes from a higher altitude, demonstrating the flexibility of the delivery methods.
The autonomy systems developed by Near Earth empower the unmanned aircraft to navigate to designated coordinates and assess the environment using onboard sensors, identifying the optimal delivery location for supplies. This ensures efficient and effective delivery even in challenging and dynamic situations, enhancing the responsiveness of medical logistics on the battlefield.
The FVR-90, in addition to its vertical take-off and landing capability, has a payload capacity of up to 20 pounds (9 kilograms) inside delivery pods. This includes specialized refrigerated pods for transporting lightweight medical supplies such as blood. The drone boasts an impressive flight endurance of up to 16 hours, enabling extended missions, and has a range of approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers), with the potential for longer distances when equipped with an enhanced antenna. The ability to transport supplies over considerable distances and conduct precise deliveries showcases the significant potential of this technology.
The utilization of drones and autonomous systems in medical logistics holds great promise, with researchers aiming to reduce the waste of valuable resources like blood during operations. By leveraging these innovative technologies, the US Army seeks to enhance the efficiency, speed, and accuracy of medical supply delivery, ultimately saving lives on the battlefield.
The ongoing testing and development of drones for medical logistics represent a critical step toward transforming military healthcare capabilities. As the technology continues to advance, these unmanned systems have the potential to revolutionize the way medical supplies are transported, ensuring timely and life-saving assistance to soldiers in need.
While military cargo drones hold immense potential, there are several challenges that need to be addressed for their successful implementation. These challenges include ensuring secure and reliable communication links, developing robust anti-jamming systems, extending their operational range, and integrating them seamlessly into existing military infrastructure. Continued research, development, and collaboration among defense organizations and technology companies will be essential to overcome these obstacles and maximize the potential of cargo drones in future battlefields.
Military cargo drones represent a revolutionary leap forward in battlefield logistics. Their ability to swiftly and safely transport supplies to soldiers, ships, and submarines will have a transformative impact on military operations. By enhancing resupply capabilities, cargo drones can ensure that frontline troops remain adequately equipped, while naval forces can maintain their operational readiness in even the most challenging environments. As technology advances and challenges are overcome, the widespread deployment of military cargo drones will reshape the way logistics are conducted in future conflicts, ultimately improving the effectiveness and success of military operations.