A decade ago, the United States had a virtual monopoly on drones. To date only the United States, United Kingdom and Israel are known to have launched drone strikes against their adversaries. However, a few days ago a CNN online article summarised data compiled by the New America Foundation:
More than 70 countries now own some type of drone, though only a small number of those nations are known to possess armed drone aircraft.
- In August 2010, Iran unveiled what it claimed was its first armed drone. And on Tuesday, the country’s military chief, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, disclosed details of a new long-range drone that he said can fly 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), which puts Tel Aviv easily in range.
- Are their drones in Lebanon? CNN reported that Israeli security experts believe that Hezbollah, the Shiite militia based in southern Lebanon, launched the drone they shot down early in October.
- China took the United States by surprise in November 2010 at the Zhuhai Air Show, where it unveiled 25 drone models, some of which had the capability to fire missiles.
- An official in Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in July that Turkey planned to arm its own domestically produced drone, the Anka.
- Members of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, such as Australia, have used “borrowed” drones from Israel, the world’s largest exporter of drones and drone technology.
- In March, the U.S. government agreed to arm Italy’s six Reaper drones.
- Libya bought a sophisticated surveillance drone from a Canadian company.
- India owns an armed Israeli drone designed to detect and destroy enemy radar, though it does not yet have drones capable of striking other targets. It is working to develop its own line of unmanned aerial vehicles.
- Nigeria, Russia, Mexico and other countries have bought drones from the state-owned Israeli Aerospace Industries.
In this new arms race many hundreds of drone development programmes are said to be under way
The most well-publicised is the joint project of Sweden, Greece, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and France which is in the final stages of development – an advanced armed drone prototype. France, which at present is believed to have no armed drones, plans to acquire these new armed drones for its air force.
Next: legal challenges, in UK and at the UN, to the drone killing of civilians.