Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

The Democratization of Drone Warfare The Democratization of Drone Warfare

This ad will end in seconds
Close X

Not a member? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation



The Democratization of Drone Warfare

Once a symbol of outright American military superiority, drones are on their way to becoming an ordinary weapon of war.

A new Iranian-made drone at a ceremony in Tehran on May 9, 2013.(HEMMAT KHAHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The awesome power to attack from above, unseen and out of harm's way, was once the stuff of science fiction. It became reality in the early 2000s, when an American fleet of ominously named Raptors, Predators, and Reapers brought U.S. military superiority into the 21st century. But the U.S. isn't the only kid on the block with militarized drones anymore.

American drones remain leagues ahead of the competition when it comes to stealth technology and weaponry, but the rest of the world is catching up. As conversations about the morality and legality of drone warfare rage on in the U.S., UAVs are edging toward the mainstream.

Drones—or the more-sterile "unmanned aerial vehicles," as the government prefers that you call them—have been around, albeit without weapons, for quite some time. The U.S. used remote-controlled aircraft in bombing missions during World War II and unmanned planes to take photos over Vietnam. In the 1990s, drones began to stream video feeds back to their controllers. But after an unarmed surveillance drone caught glimpse of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2000, the inevitable happened, and the first weaponized drone, a Predator, took flight over Kandahar two years later.


In the 12 years since, only two countries other than the U.S.—Israel and the United Kingdom—have launched drone-mounted missiles, but the technology is quickly proliferating. "Within the next 10 years, every country will have these," Noel Sharkey, a robotics and artificial-intelligence professor at the University of Sheffield, told Defense One last year. As of 2011, more than 20 countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa were developing armed drones. Many more have drone surveillance programs.

American drones are already sharing the skies with non-allied UAVs in the Middle East, where they fly the most. Iranian Ababil drones—just one model of an extensive line of Iranian UAVs of various capacities—are patrolling the skies over Iraq alongside American ones.

On Monday, Israeli forces shot down a drone that was launched from Gaza. Hamas claimed responsibility for the drone, hinting at the possibility of sending more. This wasn't the first time Israel downed a UAV near its airspace: In April 2013, a drone launched from southern Lebanon, possibly by Hezbollah, was intercepted by Israeli F16s.

Domestic opponents of drone warfare are agitating for limitations on drone strikes and targeted killings. But as the technology proliferates and UAVs become a standard part of every country's arsenal, it looks as if drones are here to stay.

Not All Drones Are So Darn Scary
Search, rescue, and recovery operations, and pizza delivery, make some of the remote-piloted aircraft in D.C.'s drone convention more angel than demon. (Reena Flores / National Journal)

LIKE THIS STORY? Sign up for Early Bird

Sign up for our daily newsletter and stay on top of defense coverage.

Sign up form for Early Bird
Job Board
Search Jobs
Biomedical Service Internship Position
American Society of Civil Engineers | Flint, MI
Fire Sprinkler Inspector
American Society of Civil Engineers | Charlotte, NC
Professional Development Program Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Farmington Hills, MI
Deputy Director of Transit Operations
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Jose, CA
Transportation Planner
American Society of Civil Engineers | Salinas, CA
Assistant Professor - Water Resources/Ecological Engineering
American Society of Civil Engineers | Auburn, AL
Product Manager - Chemical Development and Supply - Tulsa, OK
American Society of Civil Engineers | Tulsa, OK
Commissioning Intern
American Society of Civil Engineers | Chicago, IL
Assessment and Remediation Team Lead
American Society of Civil Engineers | Regina, SK
Business Development Manager
American Society of Civil Engineers
Sr. Controls Systems Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Grand Island, NE
Senior Project Manager- Transportation
American Society of Civil Engineers | San Antonio, TX
Materials Engineer 2
American Society of Civil Engineers | IL
Land Surveyor
American Society of Civil Engineers
Quality Engineer
American Society of Civil Engineers | Attica, IN
comments powered by Disqus