In 1987 the Missile Technology Control Regime, or MTCR was created. The MTCR was an arms control agreement between the former Soviet Union and the United States, aimed largely at controlling the proliferation of cruise missile technologies as the Cold War came to a close.
What is a cruise missile?
A cruise missile is a small aeroplane used against terrestrial targets that remains in the atmosphere and flies the major portion of its flight path at approximately constant speed, which is then guided to its target by an on-board computer.
In other words, an aircraft’s range and the size of the payload it can carry has important ramifications in the international weapons marketplace, triggering international arms control agreements in some cases and not in others.
The targeting crosshairs are focused on a dark building, tucked in the trees, when a missile dropped from the wings streaks down and the suspected terrorist base explodes in a fireball.
The grainy video might appear to be another U.S. drone strike, but this was a Nigerian military crew operating a Chinese-built Rainbow drone against Boko Haram, an extremist militia allied with Islamic State, in northeastern Nigeria’s remote Sambisa Forest on Feb. 2.
Nigeria thus joined the small but fast-growing club of countries using armed drones for targeted killing by remote control.
Suffice it to say that a Nigerian Air Force CH-3H Rainbow capable of traveling hundreds of miles to hurl precision-guided AR-1 missiles at targets on the ground is in practice a new kind of cruise missile. The weaponized drone club is growing not just at the less-sophisticated end of that spectrum but also at the very high-end as well as China is engaged in an ambitious effort to sell drones in Africa.
Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq — all took advantage of China’s growing exports of the unmanned aircraft systems that are reshaping modern warfare. There is nothing stopping other countries here in Africa from doing the same.
But its not gonna be a joy ride for Chinese arms manufacturers. Though they pretend not to care, inwardly this has irked the United States, who see China as undermining U.S. attempts to control a technology that gives poorer countries a relatively inexpensive bombing system that, they postulate, lowers the threshold for using lethal force at a distance.
Many countries in Africa now deploy military surveillance drones. Countries like Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa either have or are developing armed drones. In Nigeria’s case, its drone primacy has been blanketed by the proliferation of advanced Reaper Drone bases West African leaders seem eager to accommodate.
It is a good illustration of the speed at which this technology is proliferating. Don’t be surprised if terrorist groups begins acquiring and deploying attack drones. Anything is possible in todays open market global society. What was recently considered abnormal is the new normal of technology and war.
Most U.S. military drone exports are limited by the Missile Technology Control Regime, a 1987 international accord meant to limit the spread of ballistic missiles. Each sale requires congressional approval under the foreign military sales program, and only three foreign sales (Italy, UK and France)have gone through in recent months.
It will not be long before the United States devices a scheme to stop the spread of combat drone technology via legislation from the UN. The United States will in a clever bit of subterfuge seek to work with “foreign” partners to develop “international standards” for the sale, transfer and use of military drones. Egypt is expanding its Chinese combat drone fleet. It will be in the best interest for the NAF to do likewise.
The Nigerian Air Force on 2 March graduated its first locally trained unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilots. The first by any African nation. This should be consolidated upon by the acquisition of more platforms. This will be a force multiplier, giving the NAF some form of credible stand off strike capability as well as access to the technology could help Nigeria in its quest to domestically develop its own combat drones.