A Drone is an unmanned vehicle that is able to pilot itself with little or no guidance from a human operator. Drones are useful for performing tasks too dangerous for humans. Several Venusian ships are equipped with Drones that either deploy from specialized bays or from the main hangar.
Modern Drones are controlled by rudimentary cybernetic organisms known as Executors. Consisting of data storage devices and computer processors linked to an organic neural net, Executors are legal under the Edicts, but only with certain limitations. For instance, although Executors are theoretically capable of extensive growth (and hence, intelligence) when supplied with specialized nutrients and hardware upgrades, the Edicts require that Drones of a certain age be "starved" or destroyed. Although some concerned groups have equated this law to legalized murder of children, the usefulness of Drones for industrial, research and military applications has prevented any changes in their legal status.
Class I Drones: Shipkiller · Exokiller Edit
Class I Drones are simple-minded machines designed to find a target, get close and blow up. The smart anti-ship missiles used by the Jovian Javelin and the CEGA Uller missile cruisers are examples of Class I Drones. These Drones require launch rails and specialized targeting systems for proper use, restricting them to ships that are equipped to handle them
Class I Shipkiller Drone Edit
The Shipkiller is a Drone with a death wish. The onboard Executor has survival programming that enables it to dodge incoming fire with great facility, but once it nears its target, a hardwired "dumb" computer triggers the Drone's detonation sequence. The warhead is made up of hundreds of submunitions that are launched when the Drone is a few kilometers from its target. The submunitions are propelled by the Drone's detonation to extremely high velocity, and are capable of shredding a ship if they hit.
Class I Drones are unable to use standard hangar facilities for launch and require special links to the ship's systems to download target information. Because they tend to carry very little spare reaction mass, Class I Drones also need to be launched from rails in the general direction of their target. As a result, few ships, exo armors or fighters are equipped to handle Class I Drones.
Class I Exokiller Drone Edit
Exokiller Drones are almost exactly like ship killer Drones. The only difference between the two lies in the warhead; whereas the shipkiller is designed to attack large, slow-moving targets, the exokiller's warhead detonates in a spherical pattern in order to be an effective weapon against small and fast exo-armors and fighters. Considering the effectiveness of exo-armors against ships, it is not surprising that many Drone-capable vessels are beginning to carry large complements of exokillers.
Class I Drones are widely used by CEGA and the Jovians because they are relatively inexpensive and are quite effective. The only Venusian warships to use Class I Drones are the Shan-Yu-class battlecruisers, which are still under construction. Other Drone carrying Venusian ships have neither the room nor the special launching equipment. The Venusians consider Class I Drones to be somewhat brutish weapons, lacking finesse.
Class II Drones: Sentry · Electronic Warfare · Observer Edit
Class II Drones are usually surveillance and non-offensive Drones. They are not quite as single-minded as Class I Drones, but are still quite devoted. Class II Drones are usually given a single, specific instruction, which they will do their best to obey.
Class II Sentry Drone Edit
One of the few armed Class II Drones, sentries are used to guard specific locations in space from selected enemies. The onboard Executor is capable of memorizing thousands of vehicle configurations. However, it is easily confused if too many parameters are added to its orders, so these Drones are usually simply told to attack any unit with an invalid IFF signature, regardless of its other characteristics. Sentries have extremely small reaction mass reserves; aside from performing stationkeeping duties, these Drones are not meant to move once deployed.
Most sentries are armed with a single, inexpensive weapon that is designed for use against exo-armors and fighters. Missile clusters are popular choices, since they are by nature disposable. Some sentries are armed with lasers from exo-armors, however, and a few very large and expensive sentries use kinetic kill cannons to engage large targets such as warships.
Class II Electronic Warfare Drone Edit
The EW Drone is equipped with a powerful ECM pod capable of jamming communications and sensor systems . When deployed, it is usually instructed to activate its ECM and then evade enemy retaliation for as long as possible. Since ECM transmissions are easily traced back to their source, EW Drones have a very short expected battlefield lifespan, and are thus best used as decoys or distractions.
There are no Drones equipped with ECCM systems; the Executor brains are too unreliable to be given control of such systems on the battlefield. It is far easier for human operators to make the judgment calls needed to properly make use of ECCM. Some ECM Drones are equipped with small decoy systems in an effort to increase their survivability, but this is seldom effective. Even the most advanced EW Drones, which are heavily stealthed, are invisible only as long as they do not activate their ECM pods.
Class II Observer Drone Edit
Observer Drones are used by picket ships and scout vessels, and the less expensive models of this Drone are quite common. An observer Drone is equipped with an extensive sensor suite, and is designed to enter a combat zone and transmit valuable information back to its home base. When operating in groups, observer Drones can create extremely detailed intelligence images of targets by linking their sensor units together.
The Huang-Ti-class observer ship carries about two dozen observer Drones, along with an assortment of other Class II Drones. The Huang-Ti's Drones are custom-modified to be stealthy and have greater endurance, making them more useful in covert operations. The increased size of the modified Drones means that each of the Huang-Ti's two Drone bays can carry a maximum of twenty-four Drones.
Class III Drones: Hunter-Killer · Hunter-Ripper Edit
Class III Drones contain some of the most advanced Executors in common use. These Drones are capable of understanding complex sets of instructions and prioritizing tasks based on their own judgment. In battle, such Drones are usually armed with exo-arrnor weaponry and assigned to combat duty. The use of Class III Drones is closely monitored by Edicts enforcement offices.
Class III Hunter-Killer Drone Edit
The most complex of Drones, the Hunter-Killers contain the most advanced Executors permissible under the Edicts. These Executors have a basic sense of self-worth, and are capable of exhibiting behavioral traits likened to malice or anger. Requiring many months of careful nurturing, these Executors are extremely expensive and are not considered expendable on the battlefield . Although human lives still take priority in emergencies, most captains will make efforts to recover all Class III Drones.
The decision-making processes of Class III Drones are advanced enough such that they can be trusted with weapons and the discretion to use them on the battlefield. Hunter-Killer Drones are usually armed with exo-armor-class weaponry, such as lasers or particle beam weapons. Their targeting systems are of high quality, and they have excellent fuel reserves. On the battlefield, Hunter-Killers are skilled dogfighters, if somewhat predictable.
Class III Hunter-Ripper Drone Edit
Hunter-Rippers are variants on the Hunter-Killer design. Instead of long-range targeting equipment and beam weapons, Hunter-Rippers are equipped with multiple stereoscopic sensors and extra maneuvering jets for precise close-quarters maneuvering. Most of them are equipped with simple arms and claws that allow them to latch onto a target or grapple with an opponent. The Executors used for Hunter-Rippers are less methodical and more random than those used in Hunter-Killers. This makes them more effective close combatants. More advanced Executors have been tested (illegally) as Drone brains, beyond a certain point, the Executors' sense of self developed into apparent fear, making them useless as reliable weapons of war.The current generation of Class III Drone brains appears to be the upper limit for a non-sentient artificially intelligent soldier.