An arms transfer study from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) claims that only the UK and Nigeria have been the recipients of armed unmanned air vehicles, despite “widespread interest” in their acquisition.

The numbers of importers and exporters of both armed and unarmed UAVs has “grown significantly” over the past 15 years, SIPRI says, and between the period of 2010 to 2014, 35 countries and the UN acquired 429 UAVs that weigh more than 25kg.

The USA and Israel are the main suppliers, although Austria, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Africa and Sweden all exported UAVS, says SIPRI in its “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2014” paper, released on 16 March.

In an offensive role, the UK has in total acquired 11 General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper UAVs from the USA – although one was lost during operations in Afghanistan – as well as the Israeli Elbit Systems Hermes 450 in a surveillance-only configuration that has been converted into the Thales/Elbit WK450 Watchkeeper UAV for the British Army.

Watchkeeper Afghan - Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

Nigeria’s armed UAVs are believed to be the Chinese-developed CH-3s that have been utilised in Abuja’s fight against Boko Haram militants progressing through Nigeria and Cameroon. The countries also collectively received helicopters from China and Russia to battle the insurgency, in addition to land vehicles from other nations.

African imports of arms in 2010-2014 increased by 45% from 2005-2009, which SIPRI says is the largest increase by any geographical area over the time period.

China replaced Germany in third place for defence exports, having increased its international sales by 143% over this time. China’s share of global arms exports also increased from 3% to 5%. Other aircraft sales included the export of transport and trainer aircraft to Venezuela.

Notably, while the USA maintained the largest share of international exports, which increased by 23% between the time periods, it was also the eighth largest importer of arms, 44% of which consisted of aircraft.

Predominantly this was made up of Alenia Aermacchi C-27J transports, Airbus Helicopters EC-145/UH-72As, trainers and maritime patrol aircraft, all from Europe.

The paper adds that France’s position as the globe’s fifth largest exporter in 2010-2014 was bolstered by Egypt’s decision to purchase 24 Dassault Rafale multirole aircraft and one frigate.