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My Dragons: Smaller and cuddlier than their original version (well, most writers copy Smaug to varying degrees). They have long lifespans and human intelligence. They can mimic just about any sound there is (similarly to a lyrebird), along with having great eyesight, smell, and hearing.

They have natural armor around their vital bodyparts, good enough to stop a few high-powered (rifle) rounds, and some of the intermediate cartridges, but a .50 cal can pierce it in one hit.

Dragons have six limbs and are about the size of a larger draft horse. They take off by "pole-vaulting" into the air on their wings. Dragons can flap for 90 seconds at most before they tire out, leaving them to glide at fairly decent speeds (18 m/s) which can be increased when necessary to 36 m/s.

Dragons are more limited in their carrying capacity, so they made lightweight grenade launchers and a harness for it, just for them. Let's use the Mk 47 Striker as our baseline. The most notable change would be the inclusion of an automatized targeting system, so the dragons can focus more on the flight.

This automatized version should still be 18 kilograms in weight, it won't be pleasant for the dragon, but still manageable. Ammunition varies but usually weighs around 0.23 kilograms.

enter image description here "Help me! Oh my Gooooood!"
Source: https://markwitton-com.blogspot.com/2017/01/new-paper-when-short-necked-giant.html

We know of at least one giant pterosaurs, the Hatzegopteryx (see the picture), which could tackle larger prey with its scary neck and beak, implying they could carry at least some of it while flying. So, a dragon's carrying capacity? I would say that 80 kilograms would be reasonable.

On paper, military dragons are classed as infantry and were supposed to be rare but considerably powerful, as:

When they take the grenade launcher into the air, its (the grenade launcher's) weaknesses disappear.

But could that be the case? I mean, the dragons' main strength was supposed to be them being cheap (as in less powerful and less costly) air support, but would their automatic 'nade launchers be bad enough dudes (well, AI-assisted targeting systems) to offset every other potential weakness to make that feasible?

As far as background goes, assume the enemy is only slightly less advanced than the dragons' employers (no AI assistance), and that the dragons' employers are actually competent and responsible, providing their troops with plenty of intel and send backups when necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ 1) What's the mental and physical endurance of the dragon? With a helicopter, one can sortie all day by swapping out pilots and refueling + rearming. 2) A dragon that takes hits has to be healed using biological processes or magic; a helicopter that takes hits can be repaired using replacement parts. 3) Can the dragon carry decoys or EW gear? A helicopter can. Summary: Frankly, I don't see the use case for the dragon. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @GrumpyYoungMan Because you're comparing them to helicopters, whereas dragons are infantry, meaning they're less of a logistical burden to deploy and can move on the ground. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephitopheles A horse sized animal (but even more delicate since it files) is less of a logistical burden than a machine? There aren't many cavalry units around in modern armies and you're positing practical AI assisted weapons, meaning that your army is slightly ahead of current technology. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ One more issue: because the dragon is a gliding animal, a very large one, it will have trouble flying in wind conditions that powered aircraft could cope with. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles : animals are a logistical burden too, because they need food and care even when they aren't deployed. Vehicles don't use any fuel when they aren't being used. Yes, they need maintenance from time to time, but they cost significantly less when not in use. Animals cost almost the same, no matter if they are used or kept in reserve. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Oct 17 '20 at 0:11
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As described, your dragon is good for armed reconnaissance

The 40mm grenade launcher is hardly artillery, and hardly a bomb, but it can produce smoke or shrapnel rounds at needed, and modest airborne fires. I'd compare it favorably to the 2.75 inch Hydra rocket(Which now has the APKWS kit that offers laser guidance), though it's not quite as good as that.

But the other, major advantage of an armed flying asset for your army is in seeing where the enemy is, and in the case of armed recce platforms, being able to engage their scouts and 'put their eyes out' (hinder their attempt to scout out your forces).

Given its limited speed and range, you won't be doing long range bombing nor interdiction with it. Your dragon is more similar to a light attack helicopter (think Comanche if you have a lot of money, or the original AH-1 Cobra if your budget is less): you can see the enemy and hit them with some firepower, but the heavy hitting is left to your main effort/major units.

FWIW some IRL experience: your AI add-on kit reminds me of the "non traditional ISR" we did during OIF with the F-16 and F-18 targeting pods. They had good enough visual resolution to provide the local commander with actionable intelligence if / when they were not being used to direct weapons. Your armed "precision dragon" could be used similarly.
(ISR = Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance)

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  • $\begingroup$ So, "non-traditional ISR" means "F$ck it, it's good enough for recon"? $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles No, it means 'getting the most out of the tech you have' when the attack aircraft are almost never allowed to release a weapon due to hella tight RoE. In a world of limited resources, you get the most from your air assets that you have. This was during the 2004 a period when "how cheap can we get away with doing this" was the operative guidance from the Pentagon. Further comments in re the leadership at the time will not be indulged in. We also had U-2s and Predators, but they were a low density/high demand platform. More tasks than airframes. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ It's still the same coin. I'm not saying is bad, I repurpose things often (read: all the time) and it usually just works. Also, I'm now more curious about how the budget affects strategic decisions. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles heh, there are books written on that. 😎 Remember Rumsfeld's "you go to war with that Army you have, not the Army you wish you had?" What that did (since they fired Shinseki for telling them the truth about how big a force was needed to attain their political objectives) was render Iraq the Main Effort and Afghanistan "an economy of force" in the strategic sense. That had some serious ramifications on Taliban remaining viable during that period. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Is it true that soldiers had to rummage through junk to find metal plates to strap on their vehicles, 'cause their armor was inadequate? $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '20 at 10:09
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I think the use case for these dragons is wrong. I wouldn't see them as cheap air support but as mobile fire support. They sounds to me like a biological weapons carrier platform. See the British universal carrier or the Wiesel. Not a vehicle type that is widely used currently, but with added flying abilities, probably easier maintenance and lighter logistics demand I do think they'd be rather useful (the Wiesel is generally well liked as far as I can tell). There would probably also be versions carrying AA/AT-missiles.

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  • $\begingroup$ cheap air support/mobile fire support are the same thing. Modern milltary doctrine refers to 'airborne fires' in many cases. (I have heard CAS referred to no few times as "flying artillery" since it has a similar effect on the battlefield). I do like your point on a bio weapons carrier, though. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, on re-reading I expressed that badly. What I meant is that I'd expect these dragons to fight while on the ground and use their aerial capabilities mostly for quick redeployment behind the lines or maybe infiltrations. Not sure how best to word that though. $\endgroup$
    – lidar
    Oct 16 '20 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ I note your user name is a technology that we used to use for hunting mines. Coincidence? 😁 May as well edit in your more complete thought, I think I see where you are headed with this. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ Back-blast would be an issue if launching AA/AT missiles from a dragon. (Perhaps it has to air launch them?) Also, the Wiesel has a lot more payload capacity than 80 kg, so another concern would be that the dragon needs to return to rearm more often. $\endgroup$ Oct 16 '20 at 18:23
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Take the grenade launcher with AI targeting, forget the dragon. It's big and vulnerable.

A few of those launchers on portable mounts would be highly effective. Use the dragons to emplace them and get out of the area if you're looking for a job for them.

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