05 November 2014

Euronaval note: Of UAVs, UASs, RPAs, RPASs, drones and more

At Euronaval 2014, manufacturers, journalists, translators and others may have noticed a confusing plethora of terms for various types of unmanned aerial vehicle systems.
  • The British and European perspective on the topic is explained in some detail on the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association (UAVS) site.
  • The FAS (Federation of American Scientists) site has a long list of links on UAVs and UASs here.
  • The UAVS library page has a list of useful links.
  • The UAVS page entitled UAV/RPA or UAS/RPAS? provides much useful information, though some of it may be a little dated.
  • The position of US-based manufacturer General Atomics is explained in a Guardian article dated 17 December 2013 that begins:
General Atomics tells MPs the term drone is pejorative and the aircraft have a 'proven beneficial role in humanitarian crises'.
          Further on, it says:
General Atomics' submission, which is riddled with defence industry acronyms and euphemisms, says it prefers the term remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) to the word drone.
  • The General Atomics site on UASs and RPAs is here.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems are one and the same thing but come in many different shapes and sizes. Most have been designed for specific roles and applications but almost all of them can be reconfigured just through a payload interchange to perform a variety of other tasks.


  • unmanned or remotely-piloted (or remotely piloted)?
  • remotely-piloted or remotely-operated (cf. ROV)?
  • aerial or air?
  • vehicle (as in UAV), system (as in UAS) or vehicle system (cf. UAVS)?

Euronaval observations:

  • the distinction between unmanned and remotely-piloted appears to be increasingly important
  • unamnned appears to be losing ground to the clearer and more precise (also gender neutral) remotely-piloted 
  • uncrewed does not appear to be used at all in defence circles. Nasa mentions 'uncrewed aerial systems' here. (Google hit counts for 'uncrewed aerial systems' vs 'unmanned aerial systems' was, as of 04/11/2014: 80k vs 362k)
  • of the terms using unmanned, UAS appears to have overtaken UAV
  • in English drone and autonomous have acquired negative connotations when used in connection with armed unmanned vehicles
  • in French, drone remains very popular indeed and free of negative connotations. It is also more generic than any corresponding term in English.

Preferred equivalent

Save where earlier documents dictate which designation(s) should be used in a given translation, a short history of my preferred equivalents for drone aérien télé-opéré and the like reads as follows:
  • until 2013: UAV
  • 2014: UAS
  • henceforth and until further notice: RPAS.

1 comment:

  1. Possibly just as important as gender neutral is politically correct. Given the distaste for Obama's strategy of arm's length warfare, the difference between unmanned (nobody at the wheel) and remotely piloted (a fully trained weapons officer in Texas operating the system) is incredibly important. The idea that a drone could launch a Hellfire missile on a convoy based only on its on-board intelligence and a library of targets is totally unacceptable to public opinion.


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