In the seeming absence of any political will at the international level to control the export and use of armed drones, their proliferation continued unabated during the first half of 2021.
The three main exporters of these systems – Turkey, China and the US – all signed significant deals, with Israeli companies also exporting large drones, although, as always, Israel never officially admits that its drones can be armed. A number of other countries are attempting to develop indigenous armed drones although it is much harder to gain information on these programmes.
Morocco: The Moroccan armed forces confirmed in April that it had signed a deal with Turkey for the purchase of 13 armed Bayraktar drones at the cost of $70m, with deliveries “to begin within the year” according to news reports. Reuters had reported late last year that the Trump administration was considering authorising the sale of SkyGuardian drones to Morocco, but this deal may have fallen by the wayside. Morocco also has Israeli Heron drones acquired via France in 2020. Reports circulated in April that Morocco had used a drone to undertake the targeted killing in the Western Sahara region of Polisario commander Addah Al-Bendir, however these reports have been unconfirmed and may be mistaken.
Poland: The Polish President, Andrzej Duda, signed a deal for 24 Bayraktar drones during a state visit to Turkey in May. The four sets of six drones will each have two ground control stations and three ground data terminals at a cost of $270m. The deal includes missiles, training ammunition and operator training. Poland becomes the first NATO country to purchase Turkish armed drones which are expected to delivered in 2022. Poland had previously considered the UK’s Watchkeeper drone and has been developing the Zefir UAV as a MALE drone, but it is now unclear whether this programme will continue.
Saudi Arabia: During a press conference In March, Turkey’s President Erdogan revealed that Saudi Arabia also wanted to acquire the Bayraktar armed drones. While Turkey has been at odds with Saudi since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – and some nations have imposed an arms embargo on Saudi due to its war in Yemen – Turkey’s recently report to UN Register of Conventional Weapons shows that 3 UAVs have been exported to the country. Read more