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Armed, unmanned, and in high demand: the drivers behind combat drones proliferation in the Middle East

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Francesco F. Milan, Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)730-750
Number of pages21
JournalSmall Wars and Insurgencies
Issue number4
Published18 May 2020

King's Authors


Current dynamics in UCAV proliferation in the Middle East signal that combat drones have become key strategic enablers for state actors in the region, and are no longer seen as an optional asset. With the development of a multitude of indigenous UCAV projects, and the arrival of Chinese-made armed drones on the international market, military procurement in the Middle East has entered a new phase, in which possessing armed drone capabilities is becoming the norm. This article examines the operational and strategic considerations driving Middle Eastern states’ UCAV procurement policies, analysing those countries who have been focusing on armed drones for combat purposes and additional intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) needs. The main drivers behind this trend are the operational and strategic advantages brought about by UCAVs, where the benefits related to cost, reliability, and operational risk mitigation are matched by the increased ability to project power that the platform allows, either through deniability or by making UCAVs available to proxies and allies.

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