Check out the 22 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) engineered and developed in the United States that played significant roles in and changed the battlefield in the twenty-first century (sorted by official service year).

1. AAI MQ-19 Aerosonde (2001)

The AAI Aerosonde took to the skies at the turn of the century after a successful development in the late 1990s. This small-class UAV, dubbed “Lalma,” is the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean in less than 27 hours autonomously.

It measures 1.70 m in length, 2.90 m in span, and 0.60 m in height. It has a top speed of 140 kph and a range of up to 3,000 km thanks to a single Aerosonde K-twin engine in pusher configuration.

AAI MQ-19 Aerosonde
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

This UAV was originally designed to collect meteorological data, but it has since evolved into an ISR in the hands of the US Armed Forces. The most recent version, the Mark 4.7, has been upgraded by the American military and now includes new features such as automated launch and recovery, an integrated data link facility, and a NATO-compliant design.

2. Northrop Grumman RQ-4 “Global Hawk” (2001)

The Northrop Grumman RQ-4, aka “Global Hawk,” is one of the US Air Force and Navy’s cutting-edge large-scale UAVs; ground commanders and strategic planners can depend on its capability for extensive surveillance during ISR missions because of its high altitude, long-endurance performance.

The Global Hawk measures 13.40 m in length, 35.30 m in span, and 4.60 m in height. When empty, it weighs around 3,850 kg and has a top speed of 650 kph, powered by an Allison Rolls-Royce turbofan engine. It has “an internal sensory suite.” It can communicate with sources on the ground via a satellite-managed data link, allowing for the “full transference of information” in video or pictures. This protects allied pilots from enemy threats and inclement weather.

Global Hawk's first flight
(Image source: US Air Force photo)

Like the AAI Aerosonde, Global Hawk also holds an aviation first title as the first UAV to fly across the Pacific Ocean during its flight from Edwards AFB, US, to RAAF Base Edinburg, Australia, in 2001.

3. AAI (Textron) RQ-7 “Shadow” (2002)

The RQ-7 Shadow, another AAI UAV, played an essential role in the early 2000s US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its responsibilities include providing ground commanders with a real-time “bird’s eye view” during ISR missions and delivering and dropping medical supplies to needing ground units. It does not, however, have the ability to operate independently and requires the rest of its system components to function, which takes a little too much time to prepare.