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U.S. Military UAV Tier System
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) employs Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) across all echelons to support tactical, operational, and strategic operations. The types of UAS that are used in these operations are categorized into "Groups" according to their size and capability. Previous to 2010, UAS were categorized into "Tiers" or "Classes" separately by each branch of the military. In order to promote a homogeneous categorization, the "group system" was developed.
DoD UAS Groups
The "Group" system has 5 categories, from 1 to 5, with each category increasing in capability.
The previous classification system, termed the "Tier System", was used by military planners to designate the various individual aircraft elements in an overall usage plan for integrated operations. The Tiers do not refer to specific models of aircraft, but rather roles the aircraft would fill. The U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Army each have their own tier system, and the systems are themselves not integrated.
Tier II+: High altitude, long endurance conventional UAV (or HALE UAV). Altitude: 60,000 to 65,000 feet (19,800 m), less than 300 knots (560 km/h) airspeed, 3,000-nautical-mile (6,000 km) radius, 24-hour time-on-station capability. Complementary to the Tier III- aircraft. Role currently filled by the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Tier III-: High altitude, long endurance low-observable UAV. Same parameters as, and complementary to, the Tier II+ aircraft. The RQ-3 DarkStar was originally intended to fulfill this role before it was "terminated". Role now filled by RQ-170 Sentinel.
US Marine Corps tiers
Tier N/A: Micro UAV. Wasp III fills this role, driven largely by the desire for commonality with the USAF BATMAV.
Tier I: Role currently filled by the Dragon Eye but all ongoing and future procurement for the Dragon Eye program is going now to the RQ-11B Raven B.
Tier III: For two decades, the role of medium range tactical UAV was filled by the Pioneer UAV. In July 2007, the Marine Corps announced its intention to retire the aging Pioneer fleet and transition to the RQ-7 Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft system by AAI Corporation. The first Marine Shadow systems have already been delivered, and training for their respective Marine Corps units is underway.
Role currently filled by the AAI RQ-7 Shadow, although USMC planners do not view this aircraft as meeting future Tier III requirements.