The widespread use of drones in Iraq and Afghanistan by the United States to target and kill insurgents jump-started a new chapter in the history of conflict. These high-flying and remotely piloted aircraft could engage targets with impunity while the operators were safely working in a ground control station.
Keeping the crews out of danger also made the drones politically cheap to use over dangerous skies. Now more and more countries, such as China and Turkey, are gaining this military capability for their own purposes.
“At the moment, we’ve seen over 100 states worldwide using military drones, and that number is growing significantly,” said Wim Zwijnenburg, project leader, Humanitarian Disarmament at Dutch peace organization PAX. “We have over 20 states that are using armed drones in conflicts or outside of armed conflicts.”
Although larger and more complex drones, such as the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, are more capable, they are not cheap to develop or operate, which is why smaller drones are becoming more ubiquitous in conflict zones.
Limiting the proliferation of these smaller drones, and the ability to weaponize them, is a regulatory nightmare for government agencies around the world.
“Drones are just model airplanes with great sensors on them. And all of these are dual use and have been used in the civilian realm,” said Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “And in fact, drones have risen enormously in the civilian realm over the last five to 10 years. And so controlling their export is really difficult.”
Watch the video above to find out why demand is surging beyond the U.S. in the multibillion-dollar armed drone market.