The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report [PDF] in July 2012 that explored the rising international use of drones. A previous report [PDF] issued by the GAO in 2004 specified that that 41 countries owned drones, with 32 attempting to develop new drone technology. By 2012, the GAO declared that 76 countries owned drones. It also highlighted the potential for tension as US allies, specifically Israel, profit from the international drone market as the number and sophistication of drones themselves increase.
Drone technology is suitable for a wide variety of civilian applications. The GAO report indicated that countries such as Australia, Brazil and Japan use drones for law enforcement, border protection, crop dusting and environmental monitoring.Kenya, Namibia and Nepal are exploring the use of drones as poaching management tools. Drones could monitor more land area as well as identify the location and safety of tagged animals.
However, most drone technology is used for military applications. America remains at the forefront of drone technology development, but according to a US Congressional Research Service report [PDF] released in January 2013, most companies are prevented from exporting specific equipment by the US State Department. Exports from Israel and China fill the international market. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission released a report [PDF] in June 2013 indicating that China may be developing drone technology to assess the combat intentions of the US and Taiwan. Territory disputes between China and Japan have spurred drone technology development and acquisition. Experts fear that such technology will be used for combat, rather than surveillance.
Several countries have relaxed their national airspace laws in anticipation of the growing popularity of drones. The UK Civil Aviation Authority released its list of licensed drone operators in January 2013. In response to deep defense cuts across the European Union, the European Commission released a report [PDF] in July 2013 which emphasized the use of drones technology for security assistance.