Aerial target drones and UAS (unmanned aerial systems) are used by the military to provide realistic training against air-to-air and air-to-surface threats, or to test and calibrate weapons systems such as missiles or cannons.
Aerial targets may be jet- or propeller-powered manned aircraft that have been retrofitted with remotely piloted or autonomous capabilities, or they may be purpose-built systems. Lower-cost targets may be designed as a single-use unit for live weapons testing.
Target UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) can be manufactured to give off a large IR (infrared) signature to simulate jet-powered aircraft, or a low radar cross-section to simulate fast-moving missiles. They may be equipped with countermeasures such as flares and smoke pods. UAV aerial targets can also be used as-is to provide training against rogue drone threats.
Autonomous targets may be equipped with sophisticated autopilots that allow them to be pre-programmed with flight routes, as well as to execute complex manoeuvres such as fast turns and changes of direction. Onboard sensors can be used to gather data about the flight and the impact of any weapons fired at the target. Radar or laser altimeters allow aerial targets to maintain an accurate height above the surface of the water, providing a sea-skimming ability that can be used to simulate the behaviour of missiles.