Nowadays, nearly one in three American military aircraft is a drone, according to a congressional report, a 40-fold increase in the drone army from just a few years ago. From tiny man-portable flying wings to behemoth strike planes, unmanned aircraft now make up 31 percent of the military’s air power.
The vast majority of these are dronelets that can be used to conduct surveillance but could barely carry cargo, let alone humans. But it’s impressive to note that nearly a third of warplanes are robots, especially considering that in 2005, the number was just 5 percent. Danger Room obtained a Congressional Research Service report detailing the Pentagon’s drone habit, which you can read in its entirety here.
There are probably too many redundant drones, the report finds, and they’re bandwidth hogs to boot. But drones are here to stay, and will likely take on increasingly complicated responsibilities in the future military, from recognizing faces to launching mini weapons to drones that can drop propaganda. Check out some of our favorite drones in this field guide.
While the vast majority of money spent on warplanes still goes to the human-occupied kind, DOD spending on drones has mushroomed from $284 million in 2000 to $3.3 billion in the most recent fiscal year. With new drones on the horizon, including one that can take off and land from an aircraft carrier, these numbers are likely to increase.