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What is the difference between UAV and UAS?

While searching for the actual difference between UAV and UAS, cannot able to find the proper explanation and most of the results are related to the expansion of the abbreviations, instead of answers. So, I planned to explain the difference and similarities between them.

Introduction Banner - Difference Between UAV and UAS Image Credits: Travel photo created by freepik - www.freepik.com

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are aircraft that operates without an onboard pilot and carries no passengers. They are designed to perform several tasks which are difficult for the normal manned aircraft to perform.

Introduction Banner - Difference Between UAV and UAS Image Credits: Camera photo created by ArthurHidden - www.freepik.com

The applications of UAV are already in various industries, such as:

  • Defence
  • Agriculture
  • Cinema
  • Tourism
  • Surveillance

These aerial vehicles are remotely piloted, from a ground station. Nowadays, most of the UAVs are autonomous and pre-programmed to perform specific tasks with reduced manual support.

Sometimes UAVs are also mentioned as Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle, but in modern days they’re mostly called drones.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) is a system, which incorporates various subsystems. Some of them are listed below:

  1. Aircraft
  2. Ground Control Station
  3. Launch and Recovery System
  4. Navigation System
  5. Payload
  6. Onboard Computer


The aircraft referred here don’t have an onboard pilot, they are either remotely piloted or autonomous air vehicles.

Drone Racing Image Credits: People illustrations by Storyset

Ground Control Station (GCS)

Ground Control Station, contains a set of tools which provides the support to control the air vehicle from the ground.

Ground Control Station Image Credits: Samworthington / CC BY-SA

Nowadays, For most of the commercial drones, GCS can be installed as software on mobile or laptop with all the support as similar as standalone.

Launch and Recovery System

Most of the multirotor drones don’t require setup for launch and recovery, but when it comes to fixed-wing drones, we need a Launch and Recovery Mechanism. For example, catapult launching system and parachute recovery system.


The navigation system is the most important, operations such as surveillance, package delivery, land surveying, etc. cannot be performed without the navigation systems.

Finding Directions via Mobile Image Credits: App illustrations by Storyset

The navigation system is the most important, operations such as surveillance, package delivery, land surveying, etc. cannot be performed without the navigation systems.

GPS (Global Positioning System) and INS (Inertial Navigation System), are the basic systems which act as the backbone for navigation in the UAS.


When it comes to surveillance missions, then the payload is camera, and similarly when it comes to package delivery, then the payload is the package.

Drone Surveillance Image Credits: People illustrations by Storyset

The payload is determined based on the type of mission, drone operators and pilots always prefer the plug and play type of payloads, since we can use a single vehicle for several missions.

Onboard Computer

Last but not least, the onboard computer is one most important subsystems since it enables the basic aerial vehicle to perform the most advanced missions.

Raspberry Pi Image Credits: Jonathan Rutheiser / CC BY-SA

Difference between UAS and UAV

The difference between UAS and UAV can be distinctly understood by looking into the below definition of UAS from the book, Unmanned Air Systems: UAV Design, Development and Deployment written by Reg Austin,

An unmanned aircraft system is just that – a system. It must always be considered as such. The system comprises a number of sub-systems which include the aircraft (often referred to as a UAV or unmanned air vehicle), its payloads, the control station(s) (and, often, other remote stations), aircraft launch and recovery sub-systems where applicable, support sub-systems, communication sub-systems, transport sub-systems, etc.

Austin, Reg. Unmanned Air Systems: UAV Design, Development and Deployment. 1st ed., Wiley, 20101.

It clearly mentions that UAS is an entire system in which the UAV is the major part of the system (i.e., subsystem).


So, we can conclude that the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is consisting of several subsystems in which Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is the base subsystem. Also, UAV is barely an aerial vehicle that is under the system called UAS, which directs the UAV to complete the mission by utilizing the other subsystems.


I’ve tried to explain the difference between UAV and UAS with the acquired information from various sources. I’m expectantly waiting for your valuable feedback and suggestions regarding this topic.

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This post is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 by the author.




Dhulkarnayn - Elucidate Drones


I am 25 years old drone developer, holds a postgraduate degree in Avionics. I've worked on a few complex projects like drone swarms, drone light shows, autonomous landing of drones using computer-vision algorithms, etc. Since childhood, I'm much passionate about electronics, aerospace & engineering.

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