The awesome power to attack from above, unseen and out of harm's way, was once the stuff of science fiction. It became reality in the early 2000s, when an American fleet of ominously named Raptors, Predators, and Reapers brought U.S. military superiority into the 21st century. But the U.S. isn't the only kid on the block with militarized drones anymore.
American drones remain leagues ahead of the competition when it comes to stealth technology and weaponry, but the rest of the world is catching up. As conversations about the morality and legality of drone warfare rage on in the U.S., UAVs are edging toward the mainstream.
Drones — or the more-sterile "unmanned aerial vehicles," as the government prefers that you call them — have been around, albeit without weapons, for quite some time. The U.S. used remote-controlled aircraft in bombing missions during World War II and unmanned planes to take photos over Vietnam. In the 1990s, drones began to stream video feeds back to their controllers. But after an unarmed surveillance drone caught glimpse of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2000, the inevitable happened, and the first weaponized drone, a Predator, took flight over Kandahar two years later.