Drones were introduced into War Thunder in Update "Drone Age" as an additional vehicle available in ground battles.
Drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), are vehicles that are controlled remotely and as such do not have a pilot inside.
With their introduction in Update "Drone Age", drones are now an available asset for ground combat players to make use of in battle. Drones come in two classes, Scout Drones and Strike Drones.
Introduction into the game
The first iteration of drones, specifically the scout drones used by light tanks, was introduced back in War Thunder 2021 April Fool's Event "Warfare 2077". The drones were launchable by the event "Hydra" rocket tank, and was useful for reconnaissance and as a loiter munition as the April Fool's version is configured with a shaped charge warhead to damage armoured targets. The current scout drones released in Update "Drone Age", sharing the same model as the Warfare 2077 event, lacks the loiter munition capability against ground targets and is a simple reconnaissance drone.
Scout drones are extremely small, unarmed drones that can patrol the battlefield and provide visual intelligence to players. These are available as a modification for all rank VI-VII "light tank" class vehicles. Scout drones currently come in two iterations, with and without thermal visions. Scout drones launched from rank VI light tanks do not have thermal visions, while those launched from rank VII light tanks do contain thermal visions.
|Trivia: The scout drones are modeled after the ZALA 421-16EM drone|
Scout drones can be launched in the middle of the battle and flown across the arena, with the ability to swap between controlling the drone and light tank. In case the scout drone is shot down, in RB light tanks can "reload" the scout drones on captured points, in AB they passively get a new one after about 3 minutes. Scout drones can be used while the controlling vehicle is in cruise control.
In RB, it is recommended to use scout drones with means to communicate with teammates as the scout drone cannot independently scout the enemy. As such, scout drones are a greater asset to players in squads, especially with voice chat. If using the scout drone with squadmates with no voice chat, one method to quickly mark individual targets for the squad to be aware of is to use the control [Set target for squad] to mark the precise location where the enemy has been located. In case there are no squadmates nor teammates to quickly communicate to and it is way too difficult to approximate the enemy position on a map, one way to signal the location of the enemy is to fly the scout drone obnoxiously close, over the enemy's location. While this leaves the scout drone at greater risk of being destroyed, it is a method to notify nearby team members, and since the scout drones do not cost points to spawn they can be used in this expendable manner.
In AB, the situation is completely different. The drone counts as an ally aircraft observing the entire battlefield, meaning that it will spot every enemy it can see and show them on the minimap via "radio communication" skill (assuming the allies are close enough to the enemy). This means that the scout tank can just launch-and-forget it whenever necessary as long as it does not fly directly into enemy tanks and this method is vastly superior to waiting for allied airstrikes to spy on enemies around the map, as there is no waiting and also no risk of being spotted on the map by hostile interceptors like before. Drones also greatly benefit the team, especially when planning to cross the hill or trying to weed out some campers, or merely as a way to warn someone too contentious to read the chat, as it will ruin the surprise for enemies up to 1 km range away from them. Unfortunately, the drone is equally visible in AB and, while it is borderline unhittable, it might really trigger SPAA and tanks with proximity shells by just existing. Destroying the scout drone gives low SL and RP rewards, but also yields an airstrike point, meaning that most hostile SAM tanks or even other light tanks or SPG with HE-VT can harvest drones to launch bombers or even to get a nuke, should the entire enemy team just launch drones all the time. Use them when it is necessary to account for all possible enemies or got stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of enemy snipers around, not just as a throwaway device.
One method to use the scout drone in an effective manner, is to fly the drone over the AO of choice, and setting it into loiter mode using the "Flying in orbit" command at the bottom of the screen. Doing this will cause the drone to start orbiting in a counter clockwise circle approximately 400 m in diameter, making one lap around the circumference in about 45 seconds, to the left of its position at the altitude the command is used at, until the command is canceled. Following this, players can toggle views to the TV camera underneath to zoom in further for more accurate spotting. Sight stabilization is also available for further steadiness, as well as locking a single location to toggle the TV camera to for ease of orientation. The drone will remember this location every time it is switched to, until the TV camera is moved or a new location is designated. Thus, a player can set the drone to orbit, designate a location in third person to stabilize to, and then use the TV camera sight to spot targets for squad members or teammates, using the [Set target for squad] control, or spot on the map using these markers as an accurate guide, if no squad members are available. Next to squad spotting, a team-wide alternative is available using [Designate a team target] which will have a distinct UAV buzzer and marks the designated area on the map with a visual mark same as for squad marking.
Strike drones are larger drones that can be equipped with air-to-surface guided missiles. Strike drones are able to be spawned in ground battles upon earning 750 spawn points, with additional cost depending on the available payload.
Strike drones contain up to two missiles that can be expended onto targets down below before the drone needs to reload back at the airfield. However, while strike drones spawn at a high-altitude and are relatively small targets compared to manned aircraft, they are not very fast nor manoeuvrable and can be easy targets for fighter aircraft and SPAAs that spots them.
A list of strike drones and their individual pages for more details can be found in the table below:
|China||Wing Loong I|
- Shipboard reconnaissance aircraft - Another class of aircraft launched from a different vehicle.