A fast growing club: Countries that use drones for killing by remote control

The targeting crosshairs are focused on a dark building, tucked in the trees, when a missile dropped from the wings streaks down and the suspected terrorist base explodes in a fireball.

The grainy video might appear to be another U.S. drone strike, but this was a Nigerian military crew operating a Chinese-built Rainbow drone against Boko Haram, an extremist militia allied with Islamic State, in northeastern Nigeria’s remote Sambisa Forest on Feb. 2.

Nigeria thus joined the small but fast-growing club of countries — six so far, including three since September — using armed drones for targeted killing by remote control.

The United States and Britain fly U.S.-made armed MQ-1 Predators or MQ-9 Reapers, and Israel builds its own. But the three newcomers — Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq — all took advantage of China’s growing exports of the unmanned aircraft systems that are reshaping modern warfare.

That worries some military analysts, who see China as undermining U.S. attempts to control a technology that gives poorer countries a relatively inexpensive bombing system that, critics say, lowers the threshold for using lethal force at a distance.


Dr. Hans Mumm