March 4, 2015: Strategy Page
After years of pressure from manufacturers, and allies, the United States has finally reduced most of the prohibitions for exporting large (a ton or more) UAVs (like the Predator and Reaper). The restrictions were largely based on media misinterpretation of what the UAVs actually do. Over the last two decades the media myth was created that depicted UAVs, especially armed UAVs, as a horrific new weapon. The reality was that the only advantage UAVs had was in surveillance and stealth. As a surveillance aircraft (what the military first, and still, used aircraft for) UAVs were a major step forward because they created an unprecedented level of “persistence” (spending lots of time watching some area below) or literally following (“tailing” in detective lingo) an individual or group. Adding guided missiles to the UAV enabled the attack to be made as soon as the identity of the target was confirmed (often after dozens or more hours of observation) and before the target could get away (into a forested or urban area where tracking was much more difficult).
This sort of thing could have been done before UAVs using manned aircraft but it would have cost more than ten times as much and not have been as effective. What is also missed in the enormous reduction in civilian casualties when using UAVs. Until precision bombs and missiles came along military targets anywhere near residential areas led to high civilian casualties when attacked. The use of precision weapons and UAVs has reduced civilian casualties over 90 percent. For some reason all this never became news. But the myth did force American politicians to bar exports of UAVs.
What really changed minds about UAV exports was the fact that China was now offering similar (in some cases what appear to be copies) of American UAVs to anyone who can pay. These UAVs come with a Chinese version of the American Hellfire missile, and no restrictions on how the buyer will use the UAVs.