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The global market for drones is booming. But what does the coming arms race mean for US national security interests — and the future of warfare? GlobalPost correspondents report from critical locations around the world, from Israel to Iran to Yemen to Brazil — where unmanned aerial vehicles are radically transforming combat and surveillance.

Helicopter drone China TDA
Chinese visitors examining an unmanned helicopter drone from a Chinese manufacturer at the China Aviation Expo in Beijing on September 21, 2011. Beijing on September 22 reacted furiously to a 5.85 billion USD deal to upgrade Taiwan's fleet of F-16 fighter jets, summoning the US ambassador to protest and warning the move would damage relations. (Simon Lim/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The Drone Age

The planet enters a new era of remotely conducted, scarcely regulated warfare.

WASHINGTON — Inside the world’s biggest air shows in Singapore, Dubai and Paris, leading weapons manufacturers gather to sell their lethal wares in the global marketplace, and nothing is selling these days like drones.

The global proliferation of drones is right there on display in the cavernous showroom floors where American, Israeli and other manufacturers of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, are marketing the combat capabilities and extraordinary surveillance that these systems provide.

There are hot markets in the Middle East and increasingly in Asia for these robotic weapons and surveillance systems, as GlobalPost correspondent Michael Goldfarb reports from the grandfather of all air shows at Farnborough, England.

And as the drones proliferate throughout the world, their presence is felt in hot conflicts such as Syria where GlobalPost’s Hugh Macleod reports the Syrian regime is using Iranian-made drones to strike at rebels, and in low-simmering conflicts like in the Caucuses, as GlobalPost’s Nick Clayton reports, where Armenia and Azerbaijan are squaring off against each other with drones in a glimpse of the future of warfare in the post-9/11 world and how it is playing out in an often overlooked location. Pir Shah writes on the rising use of drones on the front lines in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the impact they have on the ground in Waziristan where Shah is from and about which he writes with authority.

All of these field reports — by a total of 10 correspondents reporting from more than a dozen countries — document the proliferation of drones while raising disturbing questions about extrajudicial killing and the nature of human conflict itself.

They are questions that were first raised by the George W. Bush administration’s use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan to kill Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, but they are questions that have intensified as the Obama administration dramatically steps up the use of drones to carry out its policy goals.

The Obama administration’s use of drones directly challenges international law and, as GlobalPost’s Jason Berry writes, their proliferation is steadily eroding more than 1500 years of thinking about the philosophy of what constitutes a moral conflict in a code known as Just War Theory.

Beyond the moral arguments, this 'Special Report' draws out the skeptics who question in very practical terms whether drones are as effective in counter-insurgency operations as some would like to believe, particularly in Yemen and Somalia where there is a growing consensus that US targeted strikes there have done more to enforce the ire of the enemy than it has to eradicate the militant leadership.

As the demand for drone technology surges, for use both in combat and for surveillance, these birds of prey are now visible in the skies over China, Russia, Brazil, Colombia, Pakistan and the US alike. David Axe reports for GlobalPost on the future of drones and the different way drones are being deployed and the rapidly evolving science behind them in the labs of Israel, the US and Iran.

As these GlobalPost correspondents bring you inside the use of drones around the world through a series of reports to be published over the next month, it is clear the planet has indeed entered The Drone Age. It is an era of uncertain boundaries and insidious growth, with no clear end in sight.

Timeline by Nicola Pardy.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/business/technology/120923/welcome-the-drone-age