Photo: Israel Aerospace Industries
American drone sold to China
Photo: Israel Aerospace Industries

21st century battlefield: Race of drones

Israel at forefront of booming drone industry that promises to change way countries do war

Israel is the world's largest exporter of drones, CNN reported Tuesday, noting that the Jewish state now sells unmanned aerial vehicles and related technologies to a variety of countries.


But Israel's booming drone industry is just a symptom of a global trend. Only 10 years ago the US had a virtual monopoly on drones, but now more than 70 countries own some type of an unmanned aircraft – although just a small number of those nations possess armed drones.


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According to the report, the explosion in drone technology promises to change the way nations conduct war and threatens to begin a new arms race as governments scramble to counterbalance their adversaries.


Alongside airplanes, civil aviation will include varied versions of unmanned aircrafts in the near future.

דגם ישראלי בסלון האווירי בסינגפור (צילום: רויטרס)

Israeli drone in Singapore (Photo: Reuters)


When George Bush Jr.  declared a war on terror organizations in 2001, the American arsenal included fewer than 50 drones. Nowadays, the Pentagon operates approximately 7,500 units for warfare and intelligence purposes. 


According to CNN, drone technology is proliferating rapidly; A 2011 study estimated that there were roughly 680 active drone development programs run by governments, companies and research institutes around the world, compared with just 195 in 2005.


The production costs of this modern weapon are relatively low – it is now significantly cheaper to purchase an advanced drone than it is to train an air force pilot – which guarantees increased usage of UAVs in the future.

ה"פרדיטור" האמריקני (צילום: AFP   )

American Predator drone (Photo: AFP)


Until now, the only countries to have used armed drones against battlefield targets are the United States, United Kingdom and Israel. However, the Australian army did "loan" Israeli technology and equipment during its operations in Afghanistan.


The CNN report declared Israel as the world's largest exporter in this field, selling drones and additional technologies to Nigeria, Russia, India and Mexico, among others.


Alongside those countries, many armed organizations around the world are moving towards purchasing drones of their own. Opposition forces in Libya used a private Canadian-made drone in their battle against Muammar Gaddafi, while CNN estimated that it is only a matter of time until drug cartels start using drones as well.


In November 2010, China shocked the United States by exposing 25 drone models, some armed. Two years later, it is uncertain how many of those are operational and how many are still under development. However, it is clear that the Chinese ambition to beat the Americans in this race is already shaking things around.


Correspondingly, China recently announced it will use tiny intelligence drones to trace developments around the chain of islands on the Southern Chinese sea, an area that used to be at the center of the country's conflict with Japan.


Iran enters race

Iran wasn't far behind with aggressive declarations, announcing earlier this week that it has developed a new armed drone that allegedly can fly 2,000 kilometers, which would put Israel easily in range. It remains unlcear whether Iran used the extensive information that fell into its lap late last year, when an American drone crashed in the country.

ניסוי המל"ט האיראני (צילום מסך)

Iran's drone test (Photo: Screenshot)


The first American drone operation in a battlefield – the first to be used by a country – took place in November 2001, only weeks after Bush's declaration. Since then, the CIA has used this modern fighting technique hundreds of times. Over the course of the past eight years, the United States killed between 1,900 to 3,200 people in the Pakistan area using drones, according to CNN.


The US' frequent drone usage, as part of its continued battle against al-Qaeda in Yemen and Pakistan, sets a dangerous precedent, and could prompt countries like India to use drones to fight "terrorists" in Kashmir, for example.


The growing popularity of drones calls for international policy debate on the use of such weapons, the report said.  



פרסום ראשון: 10.03.12, 00:40
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