PROLIFERATION OF DRONES TO OTHER COUNTRIES
As earlier chapters suggest, the United States has been, by far, the country leading the use of armed drones. Having used drones first in Afghanistan in 2001, in Yemen in 2002, then in Pakistan in 2004, the United States has come to rely on drones as a technology that offers the ability to loiter over targets and strike without inflicting casualties, giving it both operational and domestic political advantages. Other countries have looked at the United States' experience and seen the advantages of using drones in combat, and many have adopted the technology or at least explored the possibility of developing it or acquiring it from other drone-producing countries. This section explores those proliferation dynamics and the possible consequences.
Q. Which other countries have drones?
The Government Accountability Office reports that between 2005 and December 2011 the number of countries with drones went from 41 to 76. While the number is a dramatic increase, the report goes on to say that most of these foreign drones are tactical limited-range drones that are not used in the service of armed force but rather in collecting intelligence and surveil- lance.1 Indeed, a 2015 study by the Center for New American Security reported that 87 countries were operating drones, but that this number included countries such as Trinidad and Tobago that were flying tactical systems, a far cry from the type of drones the United States has used for counterterrorism strikes.2
According to a 2014 Rand Corporation report, eight countries are developing the so-called Category I drones that the MTCR believes are most sensitive and advanced: China, India, Iran, Russia, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States. Three countries are developing the Category II systems that are seen as less sensitive systems: Israel, Pakistan, and South Africa. The Ababil developed by Iran has reportedly been exported to Hezbollah and possibly Venezuela.3 Israel, which exported about $4.6 billion in drones between 2005 and 2012, exceeding US exports by $1.6 billion, remains a leader in the production and export of drones, with the majority of the world drone exports (41%) originating in Israel and ending up in as many as 24 countries. Israel also owns drone-manufacturing subsidiaries that are based in the United States. For example, Stark Aerospace, based in Mississippi, sells Hunter drones through Northrop Grumman but is a US subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries.4 It mainly exports commercial drones but is an example of a country that has enough technical and financial strength to easily move into manufacturing Category I drones. Twelve other countries are developing systems that do not fall into Category I or II: France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, North Korea, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom.
Other countries are interested in advanced drones but have not produced them and have therefore made the move to import the technology. In July 2013, Congress approved the export of up to 16 unarmed Reapers to France. France was fighting Ansar Dine, a group of jihadist insurgents, in Mali. Because Ansar Dine had no air defenses, France was able to successfully use Reapers for increased situational awareness and make advances against the rebel group. Reapers have a number of visual sensors, including an infrared sensor and two TV cameras, making it ideal for acquiring and relaying visual information. They are able to cruise at approximately 230 miles per hour and have a range of up to 1,150 miles from their control site. Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands also ordered the Reaper; the United Kingdom remains the only country to whom the United States has exported the armed Reaper, although the US State Department reported in November 2015 its plans to weaponize Italy's drones.5 Several European countries remain interested in jointly developing a European drone but that remains under study.6
For US partners such as Iraq, drones are even more appealing. Iraq has no indigenous military production and must therefore import its technology, yet does not confront sophisticated air defense systems that might threaten slow-flying drones. The Scan Eagle and helicopter-like Fire Scout drones have therefore been useful for conducting surveillance for its ongoing security operations as well as to monitor the transfer of Iraqi oil from the oil fields that were inland to tankers in the Gulf. The State Department was careful to note that it was "not even feasible" that the drones could be armed. Reports suggest that China may have sold an armed drone to Iraq, however.7
Another category of countries aspiring to acquire military drones are those more interested in the surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of drones such as the Global Hawk. Australia is keeping open "an option for a future force," while several Asian countries have pursued the Global Hawk, which Japan has argued it needs so that it may "counter China's growing assertiveness at sea, especially when it comes to the Senkaku Islands."8
In short, while the total number of countries with drones has increased dramatically in the last decade, the subset of countries that has the more advanced drones is far more limited. Nonetheless, that dynamic is beginning to change, as more countries produce or import drones with greater range, endurance, and payload that can cross borders and conduct strikes.