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 monopolised the field for more than a decade, an increasing number of countries including China and Turkey now manufacture and export startling array of military remote-controlled armed drones.
We detail here, as accurately as possible, which countries are currently operating armed drones (NATO Class II and III), either through developing indigenous models or acquiring them from other countries. While different in significant ways, we have also included ‘non-state actors’ as an operator of armed drones, as some groups have developed fairly sophisticated armed drones beyond the commercial off-the-shelf ‘IED’ type device.
In addition we also detail those countries likely to start operating armed drones in the near future, either through indigenous development or imports. Please see the important notes below for further information and more detail:
- Armed Drone Proliferation Update, July 2021
- Armed Drone Proliferation Update, Jan 2021
- Armed Drone Proliferation Update, July 2020
- Armed Drone Proliferation Update, Jan 2020
- Armed Drone Proliferation Update, June 2019
- ‘The Next Generation: An Overview of New Armed Drone Operators’, May 2018
Last updated: July 2021
Note: For a variety of reasons, there is a much hype, rumour and propaganda about which countries have armed drone capability. Countries are only included in our list where we are convinced armed drones are being operated. Various countries are developing drone prototypes or have imported systems but that does not mean that they are yet in operation. We also do not consider loitering munitions – which some dub as ‘suicide drones’ – to be armed drones (they cannot be re-used and are much more akin to missiles). However, due to the secrecy surrounding the use of military systems, it is possible that states not included in our list are operating armed drones.