Every country will have armed drones within 10 years

“Once countries like China start exporting these, they’re going to be everywhere really quickly. Within the next 10 years, every country will have these,” Noel Sharkey, a robotics and artificial intelligence professor from the University of Sheffield, told Defense One. “There’s nothing illegal about these unless you use them to attack other countries. Anything you can [legally] do with a fighter jet, you can do with a drone.”

Sam Brannen, who analyzes drones as a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program, agreed with the timeline with some caveats. Within five years, he said, every country could have access to the equivalent of an armed UAV, like General Atomics’ Predator, which fires Hellfire missiles. He suggested five to 10 years as a more appropriate date for the global spread of heavier, longer range “hunter-killer” aircraft, like the MQ-9 Reaper. “It’s fair to say that the U.S. is leading now in the state of the art on the high end [UAVs]” such as the RQ-170.

“Any country that has weaponized any aircraft will be able to weaponize a UAV,” said Mary Cummings, Duke University professor and former Navy fighter pilot, in a note of cautious agreement.