A Surveillance aircraft is an aircraft used for surveillance—collecting information over time. They are operated by military forces and other government agencies in roles such as intelligence gathering, battlefield surveillance, airspace surveillance, and observation border patrol and fishery protection. This article concentrates on aircraft used in those roles, rather than for traffic monitoring, law enforcement and similar activities.
Surveillance aircraft usually carry no armament, or only limited defensive armament. A surveillance aircraft does not necessarily require high-performance capability or stealth characteristics. It may be a modified civilian aircraft. Surveillance aircraft have also included moored balloons and unmanned aerial vehicles.
A little more than a decade ago the border patrol started using surveillance drones. The technology and the mission were a perfect match, and few did any worrying—almost no one objects to closely monitoring at border.
The belief that the government was using drones to conduct domestic surveillance inside the United States, though, could get a person labelled a paranoid lunatic as recently.