Army UAV Operation: 18 Cool Facts

The idea of UAV operation in the military has been around much longer than most people would imagine. UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. The first know unmanned aerial vehicles were bomb laden balloons that Austria used to attack Venice in the 1800’s. In World War I, an unmanned aerial torpedo was developed. The Nazis utilized a plethora of unmanned aerial vehicles during World War II. It was during the Vietnam War that the United States found UAVs beneficial. They were used to drop bombs and they were highly top secret.

Since those days, the military has developed much further with the use of UAVs in multiple formats in battles and wars. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have been widely used in the War on Terror, but not without much controversy. Some individuals in Pakistan have claimed that United States drones have killed more civilians than militants, but it seems these statements may be false, and led by pro-terroristic organizations.

In today’s post, we are going to examine Army UAV operation and 18 cool facts about it. We welcome your comments, opinions and experience with UAVs. Please post them at the end of this article.

1: UAS

You may hear the term UAS when searching UAV. The fact is, they are synonymous. UAS stands for Unmanned Aerial System while UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. When looking at this from an Army standpoint, they are essentially the same.

2: Operator MOS

The operators of unmanned aerial vehicles in the United States Army have the MOS 15W. Those who repair these vehicles have the MOS 15E.

3: Intelligence

While some people may think that UAV operators are simply glorified “gamers,” this is as far from the truth as can be. The 15W must be an Intelligence Specialist. Most UAV missions are spying on enemy capabilities, and the 15W must gather and determine what information is relevant to the overall mission of the United States Army.

4: 15W Job Duties

The job duties of the 15W, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operator include, but are not limited to:

  • Using highly technical computer systems and software.

  • Analyzing aerial photographs.

  • Performing intelligence gathering and surveillance missions.

  • Preparing maps, charts and intelligence reports.

  • Launching and recovering UAV.

  • Much more.

5: Training For 15W

The training to become a 15W, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operator is intense. After completing Basic Training, the soldier will be sent to Fort Huachuca, Arizona for 21 weeks. These soldiers are taught the aspects of #4 along with performing general maintenance on the UAVs they are operating.

6: UAV Capabilities

The capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles in military settings are numerous. As technology moves forward, the capabilities of UAVs will also adapt. Some of the capabilities that are evident now are:

  • Supporting target acquisition and lethal attacks on enemy forces.

  • Supporting longer mission duration’s.

  • Assisting in all forms of reconnaissance.

  • Performing decoy, demonstration, feint, and deception operations.

  • Locating and helping to determine enemy force location, activity and disposition.

  • Providing extraordinary 3 dimensional vantage points.

  • Maintaining contact with enemy forces.

  • Reducing or eliminating manned system exposure time in high-risk environments.

  • Providing target coordinates that are extremely accurate.

  • Providing information to manned systems.

  • And more coming.

UAV System Types

There are many different types of UAVs used by our military. 7-12 are systems used by the Army.

7: I-Gnat

The I-Gnat was developed in the 1980’s. It was designed to perform tactical surveillance and can fly at altitudes over 30,000 feet for periods up to 48 hours. The basic specs for the I-Gnat are:

Wing Span 42 ft 2.4 in
Weight 1,550 lb
Range 2,780 km
Airspeed 160 kt max
Ceiling 30,000 ft (9,144 m)
Endurance 48 hours
Launch/Recovery 2000 ft Improved runway

8: Hunters

Hunters are designed to provide images. They are a long endurance UAV, flying up to 600 hours in a 30 day period. They normally fly at 15-16,000 feet altitudes. The basic specs for the Hunter are:

Wing Span 29 ft
Weight 1,600 lb
Range 125 km radius (line of sight [LOS] data link)
Airspeed 70 kt loiter, 70 kt cruise, 100+ kt dash
Altitude 15,000 ft (4,572 m)
Endurance 8-9 hours
Payload(s) EO/IR, airborne data relay and attack
Launch/Recovery Unimproved runway (paved or dirt). Runway length depends on air density and location surface. Up to a 1,600 ft runway may be required for takeoff. The minimum distance for a landing area is 600 ft (182.88 m).

9: Shadow

The Army utilizes the Shadow probably the largest percentage of the time. It is used in reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. The basic specs for the Shadow are:

Wing Span 13 ft
Weight 350 lb
Range 125 km. The UA is further limited to 50 km (LOS data link) with a single GCS.
Airspeed 70 kt loiter, 70 kt cruise, 105 kt dash.
Altitude 15,000 ft mean sea level (MSL)
Endurance 5 hours
Payload(s) EO/IR sensors
Laser Designation No
Launch/Recovery 100 m x 50 m area

10: Raven

The Raven is a small, hand launched UAV designed for remote monitoring. It flies at approximately 300 feet altitudes. The basic specs for the Raven are:

Power Li-Ion rechargeable battery
Wing Span 4.5 ft
Weight UA 4 lb (12 lb with carrying case) GCU 17 lb
Range 8-12 km
Airspeed 23 kt loiter, 34 kt cruise, 60 kt dash
Altitude 150-1,000 ft
Endurance 60 to 90 minutes (Li-Ion – rechargeable)
Payload(s) EO/IR sensors
Launch/Recovery Hand-launched/auto land recovery on soft, unimproved surface
Crew Two MOS nonspecific Soldiers

11: Snowgoose

The Snowgoose is primarily used by Special Forces. It was developed for cargo delivery. The basic specs of the Snowgoose are:

Length 9 ft 6 in
Parafoil span 400 to 900 sq ft (payload based)
Weight Max: 540 kg (1,200 lb)
Empty: 270 kg (600 lb)
Speed 50 km/h (31 mph)
Ceiling 5,500 m (18,000 ft)
Range 300 km (160 nm) (34 kg [75 lb] payload)
Endurance 10 hours
Propulsion Rotax 914 piston engine
Payload 91 kg (200 lb)

12: Pointer

The Pointer is a hand-launched UAV used by Special Ops for battlefield surveillance. The basic specs of the Pointer are:

Length 1.83 m (6 ft)
Wingspan 2.74 m (9 ft)
Weight 4.3 kg (9.6 lb)
Speed 80 km/h (43 kt)
Ceiling 300 m (985 ft)
Mission Radius 5 km (2.7 nm)
Endurance Primary batteries: 60 minutes Rechargeable batteries: 20 minutes
Propulsion Electric (samarium cobalt) motor; 300 watt


A person can discover much about the Army’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by viewing FMI 3-04.155.

14: Requirements To Become A 15W

The requirements to become a UAV operator in the Army are:

1: Be a United States citizen.
2: Have a score of at least 105 on the SC portion of the ASVAB.
3: Have normal color vision.
4: Obtain a secret security clearance.
5: Cannot have ever been a member of the U.S. Peace Corps.
6: A physical profile of 222221.
7: No Court Martial convictions.
8: No civil convictions other than minor traffic offenses.

15: TRADOC, What Is It?

TRADOC, based at Fort Rucker, is the capability manager for the Army’s UAV systems. They coordinate training, development, doctrines, and all other aspects of the Army’s UAV systems.

16: TRADOC Leadership

The director of TRADOC is Colonel Paul Cravey and the deputy is retired Lieutenant Colonel Glen Rizzi.

17: Autonomous

As technology grows, we will soon find completely autonomous UAVs. The process will be all computer generated. Will this take jobs away? I doubt it; it could even add jobs to the Army. They will just be different skill levels.

18: Current 15W Jobs

Just viewing the Army National Guard job site shows a wide amount of jobs for UAV operators. I see one at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Yakima, Washington and Camp Roberts, California. View them all at this website.

Final Thoughts

So what do you think? Are UAVs good or bad for defense purposes? Personally, I believe they are going to save many lives, but I do think the U.S. needs to also protect itself from enemies using similar technology.

Please provide comments and questions below. If you are a 15W, we would love to hear more from you. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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2 thoughts on “Army UAV Operation: 18 Cool Facts”

  1. hi my mentor,am currently enjoying your articles.i find to be usefull to me as i perform my co-functions as a kenyan peace keeper.ijust want to compliment your effort and dedication of sending articles,keep it up.finally i would want to know th expenses required to have or obtain a uav,the skills and knowledge for the sama machine?

    1. UAVs are quite expensive John. The less expensive ones can be more expensive because of the costs of maintenance. This is something you should work towards, but it may not be feasible as of yet.

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