Editor’s note: Dr. Kerry Chávez, an MWI research fellow, and Dr. Ori Swed recently published an article in Armed Forces & Society examining the adoption of commercial drones by violent non-state actors (VNSAs), examining their use beyond the traditional geographic and ideological scopes seen in existing literature.
Commercial drone advancements have enabled terrorists with crude airpower, challenging states’ aerial dominance. Today, many groups skillfully use drones for propaganda generation, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, and attacks. Despite their obvious value, there is wide variation in adoption begging questions about who is using drones and why. Prominent in practitioner and security provider circles, academics are just skimming the surface of this important phenomenon. The small existing literature suggests that violent nonstate actor drone use is little more than Iran-sponsored jihadist terrorists with territory in the Middle East. Using an original data set on characteristics across 998 armed nonstate groups from 1995 to 2019, we explore the empirical determinants of drone adoption. Although Iran sponsorship is a significant factor, we find that network affiliations are the strongest predictors of adopting a drone program. We also demonstrate that groups with more intensive attack profiles and narco groups are more likely to pursue unmanned aerial systems. Our study provides the first quantitative probe of the drivers of armed nonstate drone use, putting academic assertions and policy prescriptions on firmer empirical ground.
Dr. Kerry Chávez is an instructor in the Political Science Department and project administrator at the Peace, War, and Social Conflict Laboratory at Texas Tech University. She is an MWI research fellow.
Dr. Ori Swed is an assistant professor at the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Texas Tech University. He is also the director of the Peace, War, & Social Conflict Lab.
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Lee, via flickr