Summary: America has played a special role in the post-WWII era, repeatedly unleashing horrors on the world. We started the nuclear arms race by bombing Japan, staged the first cyberattack on Iran (we now live in fear of the next being on us), and now we’re flooding the world with armed drones. Here Stratfor explains the likely consequences.
The Unstoppable Spread of Armed Drones
Stratfor, 25 October 2016.
- The United States will continue to lead in the development of armed drone technology, but China has taken the lead in drone exports and therefore has a bigger influence on the application of armed systems.
- Only the United States and China have exported armed drones, but other countries are expected to join the lucrative market, causing a surge in globally available systems.
- Because exporting states do not perceive a threat from armed drones, there is little willpower to establish a legal framework to curb their proliferation.
The presence of armed drones is a reality of the modern battlefield, but only a limited group of countries has the technological ability to produce them or the military capacity to operate them. The United States once held the edge in drone development and use, but as more countries gain access to the technology, armed drones have entered a new stage of proliferation. From the perspective of the United States and others, this proliferation is dangerous. Attempts to curb the spread of armed drones are becoming more difficult now that the United States is no longer their sole developer. China, in particular, has grown as a global exporter of unmanned combat systems, and other countries are planning to follow suit.
Though the use of unmanned aerial vehicles has spread across all sectors at an incredible pace, the military in particular was quick to embrace drone technology. Even less-developed militaries now typically have some capability, though limited, to deploy unmanned platforms for surveillance and reconnaissance. So, too, do non-state actors, including militant and terrorist groups, albeit using technologically restricted commercial drones. The deployment of dedicated combat drones carrying offensive weapons systems has progressed at a reduced rate, however. Besides the significant legal and ethical concerns that surround the use of lethal platforms, only two suppliers are known to exist: the United States and China. More countries, such as Russia, Israel, Turkey and South Korea, are likely close behind. The increased availability will give other countries more opportunities to acquire armed drones.
Many countries have sought access to armed drones, but only a few have found suppliers willing to sell them. Of those, even fewer have actually employed the vehicles in combat. The United States has so far exported armed drones to only the United Kingdom and Italy, and just last year more stringent requirements were placed on U.S. exports to keep the technology out of the wrong hands.