Which countries have armed drones?

States operating armed MALE drones

The rise in the military use of remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones, has been astonishing. From an obscure technology originally used for target practice, drones have become central to the way in which armed forces fight wars and project power in the early twenty-first century. While the US and Israel once monopolised the field, an increasing number of countries including China and Turkey now manufacture and export a startling array of military remote-controlled drones.

Here we detail which countries are currently operating armed medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) drones (NATO Class II and III), typified by the Predator and Bayraktar.  We do not include loitering munitions or other armed aerial systems which can only be used once – sometimes called ‘suicide’ or ‘one-way’ drones’.  In addition we also detail those countries likely to start operating armed drones in the near future, either through indigenous development or imports. Table 1 details states known to currently operate MALE armed drones. Table 2 (below) details states who appear to be close to operating them.  Underneath each table are brief details for each country.


States with March 2023

In 2018, Algeria revealed that the El-Djazair 54 –  an armed drone derived from the UAE-designed Yabhon United 40,  but modified and manufactured locally in Algeria –  had come into service. In a video shown on Algeria TV, the El Djazair 54 is shown in flight, apparently striking targets and separately, pictured conducting operations. Algeria has also displayed Chinese CH-3 and CH-4 drones during military parades although several CH-4’s have crashed during apparent testing /training.  Press reports in early 2022 suggest that Algeria has ordered the large CH-5 and Wing-Loong drones although there is no indication that they have been delivered.  In October 2022, local media reported that Algeria had ordered six Turkish Aksungur drones.

Azerbaijan placed an order for Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey in June 2020. The drones were apparently delivered and pressed into service extremely quickly during the outbreak of armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in autumn 2020.  As numerous reports argued, the drones had a significant impact and it may be, given the short turnaround between the order and operational use, that the drones were actually operated by Turkish contractors.

In May 2022 Turkey flew its new Akinci armed drone to Azerbaijan for demonstration purposes.  In  July 2022 the Azerbaijani MoD announced that a group of Azerbaijani personnel had qualified as pilots of the Akinci drone although no public information about whether Azerbaijan has acquired Akinci has been released.  In August 2022 reports circulated of Azerbaijani drone strikes on Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

According to press reports, Turkey delivered five Bayraktar TB2 drones to Burkina Faso in April and May 2022.  In August 2022, the Burkina Faso army admitted that up to 37 civilian had been killed and nine injured in air strikes undertaken as part of a counter-terrorism operation in the southeast of the country.  According to a Reuters report,  victims and their families stated that the strikes had been carried out by drones.

China is a significant operator and exporter of armed drones and as a large military and economic power, China has the ability to use its armed drones widely across Asia. However, there is no indication that China has conducted drone strikes in conflict. China continues to develop new and more lethal UAVs. In January 2021, the new WJ-700 (sometimes called Falcon) jet-powered drone had its maiden flight.  In November 2022, Chengdu Aircraft Design And Research Institute (CAIG) unveiled its new Wing Loong 3 drone at the Zhuhai air show.  According to press reports, the drone can fly 10,000km (6,200 miles) and is equipped with air-to-air missiles as well as air-to ground munitions.

Djibouti displayed two Bayraktar TB2 drones at their annual Independence Day parade in June 2022.  The drones had national markings on their fuselage and were equipped with munitions under the wings.  It is not known how many Bayraktar drones Djibouti has acquired or whether they are yet operational.

Satellite images confirmed that Egypt had acquired Wing Loong drones from China in 2016 and deployed them to the Sinai region.  Soon after, drone strikes in the area were reported but it is unclear if they were carried out by Egypt or Israel.  Egypt’s drones were also reported to have been involved in a major operation against ISIS in the Sinai region in 2018.  Satellite images have also shown Wing Loong II drones at an Egyptian air base close to the border with Libya, but it is unclear if these are Egyptian or UAE operated drones.

Rumours of the use of armed drones by Ethiopian forces in their armed conflict with Tigrayan independence fighters were confirmed by photographs and satellite images in late 2021. Chinese Wing Loong, Turkish Bayraktar TB2 and Iranian Mohajer-6 armed drones have all reportedly been used as well as smaller rotary-wing drones armed with mortar bombs, allegedly supplied by UAE.  Several of these drones were shown as part of military display in June 2022.

number of serious civilian casualty incidents arising from the use of drones by Ethiopian forces brought condemnation from the UN and other international bodies.  A detailed December 2022 report by local journalists provided evidence of Ethiopian drone strikes causing multiple civilian casualties in civilian areas.

After operating unarmed US Reapers since 2014, France began the process of arming its drones in late 2019.  Two days after completing a first test launch, the French air force carried out its first strike in Mali in December 2019.  French Reaper drones conducted  a number of strikes in Mali since then. In June 2020, the French defence minister reported that they had killed Abdelmalek Droukdal, leader of Al-Queda in the Maghreb in a drone strike.

It is understood that France acquired 12 Reapers although two have crashed – one in Niger (2018) and one in Mali (2022). It is not known if these have been repaired or if they were beyond repair. In Jan 2022, France announced that it would be withdrawing its forces from Mali although it is believe that French Reapers are continuing to operate from Niamey airbase in Niger.

Indonesia has six Chinese CH-4 drones, which were initially acquired in 2019 but they appear only to have become operational in 2021. In April 2021, Indonesia received a batch of upgraded missiles  for its Chinese drones. Indonesia worked for at least seven years to develop its own indigenously developed armed drone, the Elang Hitum (Black Eagle) before it was cancelled in September 2022.  In December 2022, it was reported that Indonesia was in discussion with Baykar regarding possible purchase of the Bayraktar TB2 or Akinci

It is hard to get an accurate picture of Iran’s armed drone capabilities due to much propaganda and misinformation circulated by both Iran and other states. What is known is that Iran operates two MALE type armed drones – the Shahed-129 and the Mohajer-6  – and a variety of other, smaller, so-called ‘suicide’ or one-way drones that are outside the scope of this study.  While the armed Shahed-129 have been operational since around 2014, the first known Iranian drone strike occurred in Syria in 2016.  The Mohajer-6 came into operational service in 2019.  In 2022, US official reported that Iran had exported the Shahed-129 and the Mohajer-6 armed drones as well as the smaller ‘suicide drones’ to Russia where they have been used against Ukraine.

Between four and eight Chinese CH-4 drones were delivered to the Iraqi military at the beginning of 2015 with the Iraqi military releasing a video showing the first strike against ISIS targets in December 2015.  In January 2017, nine anti-ISIS Shi’ite militia fighters were killed in a ‘friendly fire’ incident when they were hit mistakenly by an Iraqi drone strike.  In 2019, a US military report suggested that only one Iraqi CH-4 drone was operational due to crashes and maintenance issues. However in 2022, reports suggested that Iraq had signed a contract with China to return its CH-4s to service.

Air strikes from Israeli drones began to be reported by Palestinians from 2004.  By 2006 international defence press were convinced that Israel was using armed drones for strikes, including in Lebanon although Israel never acknowledged using UAVs to carry out strikes.  In 2016, The Intercept published UK intelligence documents leaked by Edward Snowden that show that US and UK agencies secretly hacked into the video feed of Israeli armed drones.  In July 2022, Israel’s military censor lifted a gag order and Israeli officials admitted for the first time that Israeli drones had been carrying out strikes.  It is understood that Israel operates the Hermes 450, Hermes 900 and Heron TP as armed MALE drones.  Human rights organisations and the media have detailed numerous civilian casualties arising from Israeli drone strikes.

Jordan acquired six CH-4B drones from China in 2016. However, it was reported that Jordan was not happy with their performance and had put them up for sale.  Some press reports claimed they had been sold to one of the militias operating in Libya although later reports indicated that they were still for sale.  Their current status is unclear although it has been reported that they have been withdrawn from service.

Kazakhstan has had two Wing Loong I UAVs since 2017 although it is not clear if they are operational and appear to have been bought for prestige purposes. Reports circulated in late 2020 that a Kazakhstan delegation had visited Turkey to view Turkey’s drone base at Batman and a year later, Turkey stated that it had signed a contract to deliver 3 Anka drones to Kazakhstan in 2023.  At the time of writing there is no indication that the Ankas have yet been delivered.  In May 2022, Kazakhstan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Turkish Aerospace Industries to jointly produce future Anka drones in the country.

Kyrgyzstan officials said that the country had taken delivery of an unspecified number of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones in December 2021. It is not known if they are operational and may have been purchased for prestige purposes.  However, in September 2022, violence flared along the border the day after Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov attended a ceremony to open a base to be used for deploying the Bayraktar TB2 drones.  In October 2022, it was reported that Kyrgyzstan had ordered Akıncı drones from Bayraktar and then in January 2023, it was reported that Kyrgyzstan had ordered a further batch of Aksungur and Anka UAVs, but no further details  were provided.

The Malian Minister of Defence announced in December 2022 that Mali had acquired Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones. Video of the drones on the ground at Sevare airport was shown by Malian TV.  It is not known how many drones have been acquired nor their operational status.

Unconfirmed reports circulated in April 2021 that Morocco had used a drone to undertake the targeted killing in the Western Sahara region of Polisario commander Addah Al-Bendir.  While Morocco has second-hand Heron drones bought from France (and was rumoured to have some Chinese Wing Loong drones), it was not until September 2021 that Turkey delivered the first of an order of 13 armed Bayraktar TB2 drones.  One of these was pictured in the air just a couple of months later, and soon after, Algerian accused Morocco of killing three in an air strike on trucks in Algeria as tensions rose again over the disputed Western Sahara. In September 2022, Chinese Wing Loong II drones were filmed flying in Morocco with local reports saying that the drones were to replace previously older versions.  A helpful January 2023 twitter thread from Wim Zwijnenburg detailed recent OSINT location work on Moroccan drones.

Niger received six Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones in May 2022 after signing a contract in November 2021.  While the drones have been delivered sources told French media that the infrastructure for drone operations –  training of pilots and image analysts and a base to host the drones is still under construction

Nigeria’s purchase of armed Chinese drones first came to light in January 2015 when photos of a crashed CH-3A UAV appeared on social media. Since late 2017, the CH-3As have been regularly used in operations – both for surveillance and strikes – against Boko Haram. In November 2020, Nigeria announced that it had received a pair of Wing Loong IIs, making it only the third country after China and UAE to operate the Wing Loong II.  In October 2022 it was reported that Nigeria was to acquire six Bayraktar TB2 drones.  In September 2022 images of Bayraktar drones with Nigerian markings at the Baykar factory as well Nigerian air force pilots being trained were released.  It is not known when the drones will be delivered.

Pakistan’s indigenously developed armed drone, the Burraq, is based on the Chinese CH-3 drone and analysts suspect it was produced under licence.  In September 2015, Pakistan announced the first strike from a Burraq.  A month later, Pakistan reported that the Burraq had again hit terrorist targets in the Waziristan region, claiming it was the Burraq’s first night-time strike, accomplished with “pinpoint accuracy.”  Since then there has been little public information about the use of the Burraq.  In 2016, a Chinese Wing Loong drone crashed in Pakistan, apparently during a test/training flight by the Pakistan Air Force.  In 2021, Pakistan received five CH-4 armed drones and these were deployed near the border with India.  In early 2022, Pakistan was reported to have signed a deal with Turkey to acquire Bayraktar TB2 drones and images of the drone at a base in April 2022 confirmed delivery.  In October 2022, Baykar confirmed that Pakistan air force pilots had taken part in training to operate the new Akinci armed drone.

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a deal to purchase 24 Bayraktar TB2 drones in June 2021 during a state visit to Turkey. According to defence officials, the first Bayraktar was to  be delivered in Autumn 2022. Poland has been developing the Zefir UAV as a MALE drone, but it is now unclear whether this programme will continue.  In October 2022,  Baykar reported that the “first batch” – likely six – Bayraktar TB2 drones had been delivered to Poland. In February 2023, the Polish air force announced that Bayraktar TB2 training flights had begun to take place from Mirosławiec in north-western Poland.

The Qatari military ordered six Bayraktar TB2s in 2018. Qatari pilots completed a four-month training period and manufacturer Baykar has said it will continue to offer support and training for two years.  The TB2s were reported to have entered service in 2020, but have so far only been seen in videos of military exercises.

After many years of development, Russia’s indigenously armed drone, the Orion (‘Inokhodets’) came into service in May 2020.  Some reports suggest that it had been tested in Syria earlier – with others suggesting that these tests included strikes. In March 2022, the Russian MoD released what it said was footage of Orion drone strikes in Ukraine, but the videos have been spliced together from different footage and look suspicious.  However, Orion drones have been seen flying over Ukraine and are likely to have been used to launch strikes one was shot down/crashed in April 2022.  The Russian MoD has also released footage of its Forpost drone – developed from Israeli reconnaissance drones produced under license – apparently undertaking a strike in Ukraine.

In July 2022, US officials said that Iran was preparing to deliver armed drones to Russia.  While the majority of these were so-called ‘suicide’ drones’ (one-off use loitering munitions) some larger drones were also delivered. According to a Guardian report, this included six Mohajer-6 drones, which have a range of around 200km and carry two missiles under each wing, along with 12 Shahed 191/129 drones, which also have an air-to-ground strike capability.  A Mohajer-6 was fished out of the Black Sea after it crashed/was downed in September 2022.

In 2014 the Saudi military ordered two CH-4 and up to five Wing Loong armed drones from China. Delivery began in 2015 and by October 2016, two Wing Loong drones had been deployed to the Sharurah Regional Airport in Najran Province, near the border with Yemen. Almost immediately, one was seen downed inside Yemen.  Since then a number of CH-4 and Wing Loong drones have been pictured having crashed in Yemen although it is difficult to know if they were being operated by Saudi or UAE.  In March 2021, Turkey’s President Erdogan revealed that Saudi Arabia also wanted to acquire 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 2021 report to the UN Register of Conventional Weapons shows that three armed UAVs had been exported to the country – although it is not clear what type these drones were.

In July 2020, Serbia revealed that it has taken delivery of six CH-92 armed drones from China. This is reportedly the first export of Chinese military aviation equipment into Europe.  The particular type was chosen as they were, apparently, more compatible with the indigenous Serbian drone development programme.   In September 2022, at a joint press conference with Turkey’s President Erdogan, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić stated that Romania planned to purchase Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones.

Confusion reigns around Somalia’s supposed acquisition of Turkish Bayraktar drones.  In December 2021, local sources reported that Somalia had received a number of Bayraktars from Turkey for use in the on-going conflict with al-Shabaab.  Images circulating on social media claiming to show the drone flying over Somalia have not been verified.  However, Turkish military forces based in Somalia may be operating the Bayraktar drone in support of Somalia forces.  In September 2022, Somalia’s minister of interior stated in a TV interview that Turkey’s Bayraktar drones were active in the fighting against Al-Shabaab only for the Defence Minister to categorically deny this in December 2022.  It is suggested that these denials are more to do with reticence on discussing the matter due to the arms embargo on Somalia but it is difficult to ascertain the truth of the situation.

A consignment of Bayraktar TB2 was delivered to Togo in summer 2022 with a flight, reported to be operated by the Tongo armed forces, tracked on social media in July 2022.  According to one researcher the drones  are operating from Niamtougou Airbase.

At the Tunisian Aerospace & Defense Exhibition in March 2020, Tunisia signed a contract with the Turkish Aerospace Industry (TAI) for the supply of 3 ANKA-S drones.  The deal apparently included a technology transfer aspect allowing  local assembly of the drones.  In September 2022 Ömer Yıldız, General Manager of TAI told reporters that the company had delivered three Anka-S drones to Tunisia and were negotiating over a the acquisition of a further 2.

Turkey has three types of indigenously developed armed drones in operation: the Bayraktar TB2, the Anka-S and the Akinci-A. The Bayraktar was designed by Baykar, a company owned by the family of President Erdogan’s son-in-law. The first batch of six Bayraktar TB2 were delivered to the army in March 2016, tested over the summer and by September of that year were in use against the PKK. Since then, Ankara has utilised its fleet of armed drones (140 in service according to the Turkish MoD in 2021) in operations against Kurdish militias in northern Syria and Iraq and also for strikes against PKK militants and Kurdish civilians in at least 11 Turkish provinces.  In August 2021, Baykar delivered six Akinci drones to the Turkish armed forces and confirmed in April 2022, that the new drone had undertaken air strikes as part of ‘Operation Claw’, Turkey’s military offensive in Northern Iraq. Turkey has also exported its armed drones, primarily the Bayraktar TB2  to a number of  countries.  There is some suggestion that Turkish contractors may operate armed drones on behalf of some nations. Turkey is continuing to develop and test new versions of its armed drones.

Turkmenistan displayed three armed Bayraktar TB2 drones during a military parade in October 2021 and again in Oct 2022.  It is not known if they are operational and may have been purchased for prestige purposes.

Ukraine received the first of an order of 12 Bayraktar TB2 armed drones in spring 2019 and they became operational in April 2021. They were first used to conduct a strike against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region in October 2021. A further 24 were ordered in September 2021 but it is unclear how many were delivered before the Russian invasion of 24 February 2022.  The Ukraine Defence Minister announced that a further shipment of Bayraktars had been received and put into service in March 2022, with Reuters reporting that this was an additional order of 16.  It is likely that this was in fact the final batch of the September 2021 order but it is hard to be sure.

In the first months of the invasion, Bayraktar TB2 drones were used extensively to strike advancing Russian forces but this declined over the summer.  At least eight Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2s have been verified as having been shot down/crashed during the conflict and it is likely others have been downed in the intense fighting.  There were some reports of Ukrainian Bayraktars undertaking strikes in Russia in April 2022.  Since August 2022 there has been little to no sightings of Ukraine’s Bayraktar drones with some speculating that they have all been shot down while others suggest that they are being held in reserve for certain covert operations.

Commentators, US Senators and drone manufacturer General Atomics have urged the US to provide Ukraine with armed drones.  However, US officials and Ukraine pilots suggest that given Russian air defence systems, they are likely to be simply shot down.

Several sources report that the UAE acquired armed Wing Loong I drones in 2015 and there were confirmed sightings of two Wing Loong II armed drones at the UAE’s Qusahwirah Air Base in October 2017.  The SIPRI register of arms transfers records that UAE possess five Wing Loong I and five Wing Loong II.  The UAE has used its armed drones extensively for operations including strikes in YemenLibya and, reportedly, Ethiopia.

In July 2020, the US State Department approved the sale of armed Reapers to the UAE.  On taking office, the Biden Administration ’paused’ a number of arms sales agreed by former President Trump including the sale of armed drones to the UAE.  However, the administration later told Congress that the deal was to go ahead although deliveries would not take place until at least 2025.  In September 2022, Turkish sources told Reuters that 20 Bayraktar TB2 drones had been delivered to the UAE.  The TB2 was seen alongside the Wing Loong II at a military exercise in February 2022.

The UK began using MQ-9 Reaper drones, acquired from the US, over Afghanistan in October 2007 with the first UK drone strike taking place at the end of May 2008.  RAF pilots had been operating US armed Predator drones over Iraq since 2004 as part of a USAF/RAF Combined Joint Predator Task Force (CJPTF). In October 2014, UK Reaper drones were deployed for operations against ISIS in Iraq and from December 2015, in Syria as part of ‘Operation Shader’.  There is some evidence that UK Reaper drones are being used outside of Operation Shader but the UK refuses to confirm or deny that these operations are taking place. The UK currently has ten armed Reaper drones in service and is the process of acquiring 16 – with the option to procure further 10  – of a newer version, called SkyGuardian by the manufacture but dubbed ‘Protector’ by the UK government.  The first Protector drone was handed over to the RAF in September 2022 but remains in the US for testing and training purposes.  The initial in-service date for the new drones has repeatedly been delayed.

The US successfully tested an armed version of its MQ-1 Predator drone in early 2001.  In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, armed Predator drones were deployed for use in Afghanistan with the first strike taking place in November 2001.  A year later, the first US drone targeted killing, undertaken by the CIA, took place in Yemen.  Since then, the US has used its large fleet of armed drones (Reaper, Avenger and Gray Eagle) to undertake strikes in multiple countries, both within armed conflicts and beyond.

States close to operating armed MALE drones

States close -March23

Albania signed a contract to purchase 3 Bayraktar TB2 drones in December 2022. Prime Minster Edi Rama  reportedly said that the drones would be “ready for action if the country’s national security is threatened but will be used in the meantime to help police”.  It is not known when the drones are scheduled to be delivered.

Algeria signed a deal for six Aksungur armed drones from Turkey in October 2022. This is believed to the be the first export order of Aksungur drones. It is not known when the drones will be delivered.

Angola signed a contract for an unknown number of Aksungur armed drones from Turkey in March 2023. It is not known when the drones will be delivered.

Local media reported in summer 2022 that Bangladesh was set to acquire Bayraktar TB2 armed drones from Turkey.  While some reports said a deal had been signed, others reported that a purchase was ‘in process’.  In December 2022, a replica of the Bayraktar was displayed on National Victory Day.

In March 2023, it was reported that China was on the verge of exporting 9 CH-4 armed drones to the DRC.  There has been considerable tension between the DRC and Rwanda over the past 18 months which has broken out several times into armed attacks.  While the UN arms embargo on DRC was ‘relaxed’ in December 2022, exporting armed drones to DRC (or Rwanda) at this time is likely to inflame tension and lead to further armed violence.

After years of public and parliamentary debate, including significant opposition to the weaponizing of its drones, Germany agreed to arm its Heron drones following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Currently, the drones – and German air crews – are in Israel where they are training for operations.  According to German official sources, the drones will be based in Israel until they are deployed.  According to a parliamentary answer, it is planned that the drones will be operational from mid-2024

India has been working to develop a home-produced armed MALE drone for a decade. The TAPAS BH-201 (previously known as Rustom-II) has been undergoing advanced trials due to be completed by end of 2023.  A scaled-down version of the proposed Ghatak stealth armed drone – previously named AURA – made its maiden flight in July 2022. Meanwhile India, which leases unarmed SeaGuardian drones, has also been seeking to procure the armed version from the US.

Italy has operated unarmed MQ-1 Predator drones since 2005 and then purchased unarmed MQ-9 Reapers in 2014. In 2015 the US approved the sale of armed Reapers to Italy but Italian budget problems and political opposition caused delays. In 2021 funds were allocated in the defence budget to arm the Reapers but parliament has yet to grant approval.  Currently Italy has 6 unarmed MQ-1 Predators and 5 Reapers MQ-9.

In January 2023, Turkish drone manufacturer, Baykar, announced that it had signed a contract to supply Kuwait with its Bayraktar TB2 armed drones.  Local Turkish press reported that the deal was for 18 TB2 drones, ammunition, ground control stations and training.  It is not clear when the drones will be delivered.

In October 2022, Malaysia announced that it had selected the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) Anka MALE drone for its ISR drone programme.  Contracts have reportedly been signed but it is not clear when deliveries are due to take place.

In April 2022, Dutch pilots begun training with their newly received unarmed MQ-9 Reaper drones from their base on the Caribbean island of Curaçao.  Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine the Dutch parliament voted in April 2022 in favour of a resolution to arm the drones but a final decision will be taken by the Dutch cabinet. In May 2022, the Dutch government announced an extra 5 billion euros of military spending including doubling its fleet of Reaper drones from four to eight.

Romania’s defence ministry announced in September 2022 that it had sought parliamentary approval for a purchase of 18 Bayraktar TB2 armed drones. No further information on this acquisition has been made public.

Work on Taiwan’s indigenously developed MALE UAV, Teng Yun, appeared to have ground to a halt following the crash of one of the two models undergoing testing in February 2021.  The resumption of test flight however was revealed after a further crash was reported in February 2023.  Meanwhile, delivery of US SeaGuardian drones, approved by the Trump administration, will reportedly begin in 2025 despite significant opposition from China.

Uzbekistan announced in January 2022 that it was beginning production of a new series of drones called ‘Lochin’. Three types of drones are to be produced including, according to press statements, a drone capable of undertaking armed attack.  No other details have emerged