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Now let's say we want to create a hi-tech military quadrocopter (like in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNPJMk2fgJU).

First question: would it even be possible today in the first place, considering it's body and ammo weight? Or maybe there any other reasons that makes this drone impossible (or almost impossible) to create? Please remember, that I'm talking about creating it in our times, not future.

Second question: If it was possible, what kind of setbacks it would experience? Need of manual reloading? Wasting ammo too much? Noise?

Third question: Considering that the answer to first question is positive, and considering all the flaws this thing can have, would it be practical and effective enough to be used by military? If not, why?

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  • $\begingroup$ You seem to assume that something being "military" requires that it is weapons-carrying. That is not necessarily accurate, and in fact there are many applications of military technology which have nothing to do with offensive or even defensive weaponry. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 21 '16 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling i understand, but i meant exactly this, "weaponized" version :) $\endgroup$ – Skypho Sep 21 '16 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Just to be clear, everyone should understand that the linked youtube video is fake. $\endgroup$ – Scott Whitlock Sep 21 '16 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it's an advertisement for Call of Duty (don't remember which one) $\endgroup$ – Skypho Sep 21 '16 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Why not just strap some grenades to a normal quadcopter? Treat it like a mine that sits there waiting for a target, then it takes off and charges the target, exploding once in range. If you're worried about the enemy shooting it down before it gets close enough, use a swarm of them, they can't shoot them all and quadcopters are cheap. $\endgroup$ – user137 Sep 21 '16 at 17:34
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Possible yes, but it would need to be larger.

Rotary aircraft utilize spinning blades to create lift. The more surface area available to "beat the air into submission" the more lift you can create. Conversely, the lighter the aircraft, the more effective the blades become.

So the major problems you have to overcome with a weaponized version is weight and recoil.

  • Weapons are heavy due to the fuel, payload, and casings required to contain and control combustion.
  • Ammunition is heavy and the more you carry the heavier it becomes
  • Weapons fire payloads in a direction and experience recoil equally in the opposite direction

Managing weight and recoil requires more power than a few small Li batteries can provide and sustain and the additional weight means the blades used for propulsion either need to increase in size or quantity.

All of this is doable, but the drone will be 3x or 4x the size to house the resources required to manage lift and propulsion, namely larger batteries and additional blade surface area, most likely in the form of additional rotor heads making it more like an octacopter, with larger diameters to minimize noise.

Weapons make noise when they are launched and if you want to make this stealthy, you'll need choose weapons systems carefully and be very mission specific. Suppressed sniper, laser guided missle, etc. You aren't going to load an automatic weapon on one of these, nor will you be mounting rocket pods. Payloads will need to be limited to reduce weight, yet effective for the mission. Which means, these will be modular and configurable depending on the mission parameters.

Typically, this technology is used more for recon and observation due to its small and quiet footprint. The larger the footprint, the more noticeable it becomes. And weaponizing this tech would most definitely require it's footprint to grow, making it ideal at distance to increase its survivability.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems specific to "A military quadcopter with guns." I could easily use a quadcopter to drop a single grenade or similar munition, for example, without making it significantly larger than modern systems. Alternately, it could simply carry an internal warhead and detonate remotely, allowing soldiers to fly a grenade into an enemy compound or though a building. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Sep 21 '16 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ @ckersch, if you watch the video referenced by the OP, he's looking for a quadracopter with guns. It's a neat video but obviously faked. No way it's carrying enough ammo. Watch at the beginning as he picks it up...super light and a full auto with that much ammo would not be light. Then look at the "gun", where is the recoil handled so the gun can cycle, where is the ejection port? Watch the firing sequence - note that in "camera" mode there are no dust plumes when it misses. And the angle the misses hit the ground is all wrong. He stunted the recoil and got busy editing in the rest. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Sep 21 '16 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ Quite the opposite, you want it to be significantly smaller. One or a few big quadcopters are not scary. 10000 tiny ones with bombs are unstoppable. $\endgroup$ – R.. Sep 21 '16 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ @R.. 10000 tiny ones without bombs are scary. Maybe even more scary. With bombs, it's a weapon that is intended to kill you, and you could not prevent the attack. You have no control about whether it will actually kill you now. A swarm without weapons does not attack you, but shows you that you have no control about your situation in general. You do not know it's intentions, whether it's inteligent, whether it has intentions at all. I think I prefer being shot at. $\endgroup$ – Volker Siegel Dec 25 '18 at 4:08
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Military quadcopter are not only possible, but various nations are already experimenting with variations of the idea.

Current quadcopters, like the ones you buy at a hobby store, have fairly limited performance and weather restrictions, but would be useful to fly forward and provide realtime video or other sensor information to the controlling body. An infantry soldier can manpack one quite easily, and fly it over a hill, around the corner or into the window of a building to allow the sensors to see where he and his squad mates cannot. In many ways this is a very scaled down version of what a scout helicopter does for a gunship.

enter image description here

Larger quadcoters with greater performance are only a matter of time. Having a quadcopter large enough to carry something like a machine-gun or anti tank missile only requires the perceived need to do so, and someone willing to do the R&D to make a machine with sufficient lifting power to carry a weapon and sensor, and to deal with the recoil or launch forces (the launching of a missile could drastically change the weight and centre of gravity of the machine, for example, and the exhaust of even a "soft launch" system might interfere with the aerodynamics of the rotors).

enter image description here

Very large systems are under development under the "Transformers TX" program by DARPA. The idea here is to essentially have a quadcopter like machine which can carry large payloads autonomously. Most depictions show cargo pods or sensor laden devices, but in principle there seems to be no reason to replace the cargo pod with a targeting pod and a brace of HELLFIRE ATGM's or 70mm HYDRA rockets, for example. Something like that would be an excellent fire support vehicle for platoons and companies deployed in complex environments. Ones big enough to carry 20' ISO containers could conceptually be used as troop carriers or air ambulances as well as logistics vehicles.

enter image description here

enter image description here

The main issues that need to be resolved for this to actually work is to minimize the amount of bandwidth needed to control and fly these things. There is already a massive desire to stream huge quantities of voice, data and video throughout the battlespace, so finding open frequencies and pushing enough data through the pipes will be challenging. Add the threat of interference, enemy jamming and EW or cyber attacks and you have the potential to have your systems disabled by not being able to communicate with them. Most military projects are working on making the drones much more autonomous, so they can carry out their missions on autopilot or even with onboard AI.

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  • $\begingroup$ So what you mean is we're about 80% of the way to a bunch of Veronicas flying around the planet? $\endgroup$ – Azor Ahai Sep 21 '16 at 17:33
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First Answer: Yes. A full size quadracopter is only engineering effort away from an Osprey, which is real and works. It isn't armed, but has the payload capacity to be.

Second Answer: The only drawback that counts is that it is not combat survivable. Helicopters as they are are mostly good for hit and run tactics. That big spinning rotor is too easy of a target. A quadracopter is even worse since. In a helicopter, an armored body can give the blades above it a reasonable amount of protection from small arms fire (like in the Apache). But a quadracopter will have a larger spinning blade area to armored body area ratio, and thus make a more inviting target.

Third Answer: The Osprey is used, but not in combat and it isn't exactly reliable. Fun trivia fact: the leading cause of death for Marines in the line of duty between the Beirut bombing and the Battle of Fallujah (a period of 20 years!) was...the Osprey.

The reason the Osprey is not used is that its two rotor configuration does not give it maneuverability like a single rotor helicopter. A single rotor helicopter can bank quickly by changing the aspect of the rotor blades, causing the lift force to tilt 45 degrees off the vertical in seconds. That is how you get helicopter acrobatics like in Blackhawk Down. A two rotor system can't do that, because a. the rotational moment of inertia is much higher with heavy engines at a distance from the center of mass and b. the two sources of lift have to be moved in a controlled manner at roughly the same speed. If one rotor drags the other through the air, you can lose lift on the second rotor (vortex ring state, the cause of the two deadliest of the Osprey accidents, although due to rapid descent not rapid banking). A four rotor situation would probably be even worse for maneuverability, though I can't say that for sure.

Anyways, a quadracopter would pretty much only be useful as a heavy lift bird, like a Skycrane. And since the military doesn't even use that platform any more, I'd say its not worth the development expense.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe I'm missing something, but what I've seen of quadrocopters is that they are extremely maneuverable. Perhaps it is an issue of scale, but the OP isn't asking for a quadrocopter that can move people, just one on which a gun could be mounted, which could be controlled from afar. And since it is unmanned, we don't really have to worry as much about it being shot down or stalling in flight. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Wells Sep 21 '16 at 23:18
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Right now, I guess they would be possible but not very effective, except for special situations when they become priceless.

If the armed drone presents a marginally credible threat, an enemy would be forced to fire on it or to evade. Either way, a disadvantage for the enemy.

  • A sniper might be forced to fire on the drone when the drone approaches yet another enemy soldier. Afterwards the sniper has to move from a good position to a worse one, and he will not be available while he is moving.
  • A forward observer on a rooftop may have cover against ground fire. The quad copter has a clear line of fire. The observer has to fight the drone or run away.
  • A drone could fire into a suspected roadside bomb and see what happens.

There are many problems:

  • It would have to be under remote control. Can the transmission be jammed to intercepted? Can the enemy attack the controller?
  • The recoil would shake the drone. Can the systems recover before it crashes into a wall or a tree?
  • If it does not crash, firing multiple rounds could shift the center of gravity.
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q1 Possible? Yes armed quadrocopter drones are possible. It would be difficult to make one large enough for serious weaponry without running into problems listed below.

q2 Limits/restrictions? Speed, range and reliability. Quadrotors are inefficient when scaling up size and speed. They would eat up a lot of fuel for fairly low payloads. Carrying anything meaningful would mean switching to liquid fuels, and gas engines are less reliable than electric motors.

q3 The problem with quad copters isn't what they can "possibly" do, but what areas they would be more effective that other platforms. For the large gunship or transport roles, I can't see them replacing single rotor helicopters. Why build an autonomous quadrocopter when you could just build an autonomous Apache? Quadrotors would only be competitive under a certain size/speed requirement. Small enough that they couldn't carry and stabilize guns effectively or act as hardpoints for missiles/rockets.

The quadrocopter would have to be the weapon. A flying bomb. Something that fills the gap between a grenade and a rocket launcher in power, while being more accurate than both.

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Possible, yes.

But extremely easy to shoot down. And once shot down, they're pretty much useless. So, how many of these will you have to have in the back of a truck to achieve one mission?

If they did have a practical military purpose, then they'd certainly be in active service right now. It might be possible that they're being used for surveillance, but that's about all.

That's my take anyhow.

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