The race to build war drones is heating up around the world. The U.S. has killed more than 2,000 people using unmanned aircraft, including reportedly senior al-Qaeda figure Anwar al-Awlaki.
"To date, only the United States, Israel (against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza) and Britain (in Afghanistan) are known to have used drones for strikes," the New York Times wrote Sunday. "But American defense analysts count more than 50 countries that have built or bought unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, and the number is rising every month."
They include big military powers like the U.S. and China but also Armenia, Latvia and Vietnam, according to aerospace website Flightglobal.
UAVs are attractive to military leaders because they can achieve big effects at lower cost. High-performance drones such as the U.S.-made Predator cost between US$10.5 million and $20 million each, far cheaper than an F-22 fighter jet at $150 million.
China has made the fastest progress. It introduced its first drone at the Zhuhai International Air Show five years ago and is now running UAV research centers at all defense companies in the country.
Among the 25 drones China exhibited at the Zhuhai Show in November last year, the WJ-600 unmanned bomber is believed to have the most formidable firepower. Visitors were shown a video of the WJ-600 drone finding and transmitting targeting information on something that looked like a U.S. aircraft carrier fleet near an island that looked like Taiwan.
Russia, Iran, India, and Pakistan are focusing on catching up with the U.S.' advanced UAV development technology.