Military drones or unmanned aerial vehicles have been around for a long time and their first tactical use with reconnaissance cameras was tested by Israeli Intelligence in the late 1960s. Israel continued to develop the technology, successfully using it to neutralize Syrian air defences at the start of the 1982 Lebaon War. The U.S. military also adopted it, successfully using the Israeli-developed Pioneer UAV for real-time intelligence over Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s.
It was only a matter of time until weapons were first deployed on U.S. drones and this occurred immediately after 9/11 when Osama bin Laden was observed from an unarmed Predator. They, along with their larget successor the Reaper, were subsequently equipped with Hellfire missiles, attacking a host of targets across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. Other countries have obtained weaponized drones and between 2014 and 2018, British Reapers flew 2,423 missions over Syria and Iraq, conducting 398 strikes.
Weaponized drones are expensive and this year, experts at Jane's expect the world's ten largest operators to spend $8 billion on units. That's according to a Guardian analysis which also looked into the countries expected to make the most weaponized drone purchases over the coming decade. The U.S. is forecast to buy 1,000 of them up to 2028, far ahead of China's 68 and Russia's 48. The usage of weaponized drones is controversial, particularly due to their deployment over countries with which the U.S. is not technically at war.
This chart shows the total forecast purchases of weaponized military drones up to 2028.
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