Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, are increasingly relied upon as a key component of US foreign policy, national security and military strategy. While the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency use drone fleets to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions, they also use drones as lethal weapons to execute targeted armed strikes as part of conventional warfare and counterterrorism strategy. Drones are also increasingly used by other US government agencies, foreign governments and multilateral institutions, and by the commercial sector for a variety of non-lethal purposes.

Download the Recommendations and Report of the Stimson Task Force on US Drone Policy

View the release of the report below or here.

Stimson Task Force on US Drone Policy - Press Release

Research - Data - Events -  Publications



Stimson provides in-depth research on UAV use, development, and proliferation.

Human Rights Groups and UN Special Rapporteur Reports

Throughout the fall of 2013, several reports were released discussing the use of drones and targeted killings around the world. This memo summarizes the common themes and recommendations of Amnesty International's US Drone Strikes in Pakistan (AI Report), Human Rights Watch's The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen (HRW Report), The United Nation's Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions (Heyns Report), and the UN's Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism (Emmerson Report).

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Reporting on civilian casualties from targeted strikes in Pakistan

Little information has been provided by the Obama administration regarding collateral damage from US drone strikes. Thus, various organizations have attempted to collate information from different sources in order to provide estimates of the number of casualties from each drone strike, and the possible status of each victim - militant, leader, or civilian. Stimson conducted a cross-comparison of data on UAV strikes in Pakistan in 2011 to gauge how reporting organizations classify the casualties of each strike and what sources they use.

International UAV exports

The global market for UAV systems is set to more than double over the next decade, increasing from $5.2 billion annually in 2013 to $11.6 billion in 2023. While the United States makes a large percentage of the global UAV exports, other countries export UAV technology, especially smaller UAVs used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Based on data from SIPRI, Stimson has created a regularly updated spreadsheet of global UAV exports, including information on the importer, the technology, and the relevant details on the brokered deal.

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Stimson hosts a series of public events on issues related to drones, providing a forum for balanced discussion and debate on the complex issues related to this controversial topic.

Past Events

High-level National Security Task Force Released Recommendations on US Drone Policy, Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Stimson Center's Task Force on US Drone Policy released a comprehensive and pragmatic set of recommendations to the Obama Administration on the future of US drone policy. Co-chaired by General John P. Abizaid (US Army, Ret.), former Commander of US Central Command, and Rosa Brooks, former Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the task force's findings represent the most high-level recommendations on US drone policy to date.

Emerging Uses of UAV Technology, Tuesday, November 19, 2013

While the military use of UAVs has been well covered, UAVs are increasingly being used in non-military interventions, including to stop illicit poaching, to help fight wildfires, and for civilian protection. As UAV technology develops, the use of UAVs will likely increase - allowing for better intelligence in areas not easily accessed or that may be unsafe for manned aircraft. The panel discussion took an over-the-horizon look at the non-military use of UAVs and discussed not only the future of this technology, but potential issues and obstacles related to its current use.

The US Air Force and Drone Policy, Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Over the past decade, the use of drones has taken center stage as part of US military strategy. Stimson's conversation with Lt. Gen. Larry D. James highlighted the US Air Force's remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) program and discussed RPA use in combat and non-combat operations. General James also underscored the effect on future Air Force strategy and support of US national security objectives. General James reflected upon the current state of play in Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), the integration of remotely piloted aircraft, and provided insight into where he sees the ISR enterprise heading in the near future.

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We Need to Reform Our Drone Policies (But This Isn't About Privacy) (Wired, August 13, 2014)

America Should Set Standards for Drone Use (Chicago Tribune, July 21, 2014)

The Great Drone Debate: Time to Move Past Fear and Confusion (The National Interest, July 7, 2014)

Report of the Stimson Center Task Force on Drone Policy (Lawfare, June 26, 2014)

Drones: Three Misconceptions, Concerns, and Ways to Make Things Better - A Report from the Stimson Center Task Force (Defense in Depth, June 26, 2014)

Mr. President, We Need Rules for Drones (Politico, June 26, 2014)

US Should Take Lead on Setting Global Norms for Drone Strikes (Washington Post, June 26, 2014)

The Other Side of Drones: Saving Wildlife in Africa and Managing Global Crime (Conflict Trends, October 2013)

Killing Lions, Buying Bombs (The New York Times, August 12, 2013)

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Photo credits: DeffiSK via wikimedia commons; Hashekemist via wikimedia commons; Gunnison4 via wikimedia commons