could a rifle pod be mounted to a military drone?

Is it possible to mount, say, a .50cal rifle to a drone and use that in lieu of Hellfire missiles? Is the platform to unstable? Would the drone be too far away for positive target ID?


A UAV that is capable of carrying a Hellfire missile, which weighs about 100 pounds, is generally going to be something like a Predator, which flies at 25,000 feet and about 150 mph. A large rifle simply would not be a practical weapon for that type of aircraft, because every shot, even if the aircraft could be stabilized, would be several miles in range. A bullet fired from several miles is going to lose velocity and not be accurate.

I can’t think of a drone that would seem to be optimal for being large enough to carry a big-ass rifle and yet flies close enough to make it worth it. There have been experiments by even simple enthusiasts to put handguns on small drones, however.

A quadcopter-style drone can be built any size you like, from one that will fit in the palm of your hand to one that can carry a person - and beyond. It can fly at any low altitude you choose.

Moderately sized drones that carry gyro-stabilized cameras are available off the shelf. Scaling this technology to carry a gun is well within what’s feasible today.

And of course you don’t need the whole rifle - just the working parts.

The thought that some clowns are fitting handguns to drones makes me shudder. I used to want to visit America - no longer.

I know! I had to doge half a dozen assassination attempts on the way to work this morning.

I should clarify that I was thinking in terms of drones that would be militarily relevant. Quadcopters generally have much poorer range than fixed wing drones, due to limitations on size/weight/power and usually needing line-of-sight command and control. Building a rather large drone to carry 35-40 pounds of rifle and then only being able to fly it for maybe an hour and a couple miles doesn’t sound like something that an advanced military would want to invest in, but yes, it could be done.

But don’t under-estimate the complexity of stabilizing and aiming such a powerful weapon on an aircraft. When the Air Force Special Operations Command sought to replace 40mm Bofors cannons on its AC-130 aircraft with 30mm autocannons, a large defense contractor was hired to design the proper mount. Now, this was in a large aircraft in which weight and space was not at a premium, as opposed to a drone where every ounce would be far more precious. Long story short, the very knowledgeable contractor did an awful job, and despite many millions of government dollars being spent, couldn’t design a good mount that would be both stable and precise for repeated firing. (Basically, it would shoot a couple times and then the aim would get progressively worse.) In the end, the government found the guys who made the original 40mm mounts and they designed a government-built solution that seems to be doing well.

The upshot is that just because one can say, “Hey, we just put a very big rifle on an unstable platform and have a gyro make everything work precisely!” doesn’t mean that the engineering is as easy as the idea.

Of course, if you don’t actually care about accuracy, then you can put any rifle on any sufficiently large aircraft and have it spray and pray.

An engineer would ask, “what are you trying to accomplish?”

Because if it’s simply to eliminate specific targets like individual people with something smaller, cheaper, more precise, and less likely to do collateral damage than the commonly-used Hellfire missile, the military already has (and is enthusiastically employing) the Griffin Missile.

Or the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. It has a warhead about half the size of a Griffin.

Plus it has got the word “Kill” right next to “Weapon” right in the name of the thing. It’s got to be good.

I was thinking much the same thing; having a drone fire a guided missile just means basically pointing it in the right direction and pulling the trigger. It’s either fire-and-forget, or there’s a laser designator somewhere guiding the missile on target- either way, there’s not any real aiming to be done.

If you’re talking about basically mounting a sniper rifle on a drone, accuracy would be the biggest problem by far- you’d have to come up with a system that would account for all the vagaries in aircraft flight, and any atmospheric conditions between the drone and the target, as well as the weapon’s idiosyncracies, and hope you could hit a man-sized target at that distance. Probably highly unlikely.

With a machine gun or cannon, you’d have to have some kind of turret, and you’d have to have some kind of way to put the gun on target. I’d think that rather than try and scheme up some sort of spiffy stabilized mount, the best way to do it would be similar to how an Apache does it- have the gun slaved to the sensors, and let the pilot walk his rounds on target using tracers.

But that still begs the question of what utility a .50 cal M2 would be on a drone, considering that the point of the drones is to be relatively small and invisible, and to drop Hellfire missiles on the bad guys without warning. Flying around firing bursts of machine gun fire is kind of the exact opposite.

They’re probably doing what works best- dropping guided missiles onto the bad guys seems to work quite well.


So was I.

All those limitations are being addressed. Here’s one example of a hybrid sort of design, with a wing for high-speed flight and the ability to hover.

Less than 25% of that payload capability would allow you carry an effective rifle (e.g. stripped-down AR-15) and a decent amount of ammunition.

Agreed. But the problem isn’t radically different from stabilizing a camera, which is easily done today.

One suspects America is not the only place where “hobbyists” are working on this.

I absolutely agree that carrying small arms (anything from a 5.56 to 9mm) is not a huge burden, if you accept that they are not going to be very precise weapons.

Of course firearms are radically different than cameras. What’s the recoil like on a Raytheon Multi-Spectral Targeting Sensor?

How’s the work going on guided bullets? You could have one drone shoot while the other scouts & guides the round. The shooting drone might not even need to be within line-of-sight of the target.

Drone will probably need to be within ~300 m of a human target - which it can easily manage.

Recoil may limit the rate of accurate fire to around one per 3 seconds. But a likely scheme is to “fire & retire” - immediately after firing, run and hide (or seek another target elsewhere).

Recoil can have a cumulative effect on accuracy, as I noted with the 30mm autocannon mount that was under development for the AC-130 several years ago. The problems with that mount didn’t limit accurate fire to a low firing rate, it eliminated accurate fire after a certain number of shots.

And if this drone is more or less a muzzleloader on a flying platform, that probably has to remain within LOS, I’m not sure what advanced military would bother with such a thing.

How does the shot you fired 30 seconds ago affect the one you’re about to fire? Drone is temporarily shaken by the shot, then returns to its pre-shot status (less the weight of one round) - no?

Why should it be a muzzleloader, instead of an autoloader? Why limit it to line-of-sight?

The first time I saw a (fake) video of a gun mounted to a commercial drone in was on a Russian gun YouTube channel.

Comrade, you made stronk promise not to reveal state secrkts as this.

Drone’s gun mount is deformed by shock of firing. Can’t be prevented without adding the mass posters keep insisting drone won’t have.

You know a great way to eliminate recoil and its attendant effects on structural integrity? And lower weight at the same time? Rockets or missiles.