Analysis: Why Demand For Armed-Drones Is Surging

Armed drones are growing in military importance as conflicts around the world have proven the utility of these effective tools of war. Companies in China, Turkey, and Russia, among others, have developed advanced remotely piloted aircraft that can use guided weapons on and off the battlefield.

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 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 PAX. “We have over 20 states that are using armed drones in conflicts or outside of armed conflicts.”

Although larger and more complex drones, like the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper are not cheap to develop or operate, 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.”

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