Governments around the world will soon have a new tool to fight wars, carry out assassinations and suppress domestic dissent. According to military experts, the capability to build or purchase lethal aerial drones is spreading so fast that we've passed the point where we can do anything to prevent it.
As Defense One reports, even as the U.S. is scaling down drone development (the program's budget has dropped from $5.7 billion to $2.4 billion), other countries are anxious to acquire the lethal technology. Besides the U.S., only a few nations—such as the UK, Israel and China—currently have armed drones. However, according to a new Rand study, another 23 countries, including South Africa and India, are developing—or have already developed—weaponized drones.
In a sign of things to come, China has announced that it will be selling its equivalent of the Predator, the "Wing Loong," to Saudi Arabia. So, just when you thought the conflict in the Middle East couldn't get any worse, the killer robots are coming.
According to Peter Singer, the author of Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, "You could soon have U.S. and Chinese made drones striking in the same region."
Singer cautions that while the U.S. may be trying to wean itself off of armed UAV technology, many more countries are quickly becoming hooked. "What was once viewed as science fiction, and abnormal, is now normal… Nations in NATO that said they would never buy drones, and then said they would never use armed drones, are now saying, 'Actually, we're going to buy them.' We've seen the U.K., France, and Italy go down that pathway. The other NATO states are right behind....
Virtually any country, organization or individual could employ low-tech tactics to "weaponize" drones right now. "Not everything is going to be Predator class," said Singer. "You've got a fuzzy line between cruise missiles and drones moving forward. There will be high-end expensive ones and low-end cheaper ones." The recent use of drone surveillance and even the reported deployment of booby-trapped drones by Hezbollah, Singer said, are examples of do-it-yourself killer UAVs that will permeate the skies in the decade ahead – though more likely in the skies local to their host nation and not over American cities. "Not every nation is going to be able to carry out global strikes," he said.
So, what are the options for the United States? Analysts say embrace the inevitable and export weaponized drone technology to additional allies. Perhaps the U.S. drone budget will increase after all.
Read the full report at Defense One.