A loitering munition (also known as a suicide drone or kamikaze drone) is a weapon system category in which the munition loiters around the target area for some time, searches for targets, and attacks once a target is located. Loitering munitions enable faster reaction times against concealed or hidden targets that emerge for short periods without placing high-value platforms close to the target area, and also allow more selective targeting as the actual attack mission can be aborted.
Loitering munitions fit in the niche between cruise missiles and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) sharing characteristics with both. They differ from cruise missiles in that they are designed to loiter for a relatively long time around the target area, and from UCAVs in that a loitering munition is intended to be expended in an attack and has a built-in warhead.
Loitering weapons first emerged in the 1980s for use in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role against surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and were deployed for the SEAD role in a number of military forces in the 1990s. Starting in the 2000s, loitering weapons have been developed for additional roles ranging from relatively long-range strikes and fire support down to tactical, very short range battlefield systems that fit in a backpack.
Loitering munitions have proliferated into use by at least 14 countries, with several different types in use as of 2017. The rising proliferation and the ability to use some systems as lethal autonomous weapons coupled with ethical concerns over such use have led to research and discussion by International humanitarian law scholars and activists.
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