The report states that between 2005 and December 2011, the number of countries that posses drones rose from 41 to 76 (see here for full list).
(Countries that have drones according to GAO report)
According to the report:
“The majority of foreign UAVs that countries have acquired fall within the tactical category. Tactical UAVs primarily conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and typically have a limited operational range of at most 300 kilometres. However, some more advanced varieties are capable of performing intelligence collection, targeting, or attack missions. Mini UAVs were also frequently acquired across the globe during this period.”
It should be noted that currently only the US, UK and Israel are known to have used armed UAVs.
The report goes on: “Currently, there are over 50 countries developing more than 900 different UAV systems. This growth is attributed to countries seeing the success of the United States with UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan and deciding to invest resources into UAV development to compete economically and militarily in this emerging area.”
While the report fails to highlight the danger of growing drone proliferation to global peace and security it does emphasize the danger of drone proliferation to “US interests”. The report states that “the use of UAVs by foreign parties to gather information on U.S. military activities has already taken place” and “the significant growth in the number of countries that have acquired UAVs, including key countries of concern, has increased the threat to the United States.”
Despite this, the report states “the U.S. government has determined that selected transfers of UAV technology support its national security interests”, thus highlighting the contradiction at the heart of current arms control measures. ‘Private sector representatives’ told the reports authors that “UAVs are one of the most important growth sectors in the defense industry and provide significant opportunities for economic benefits if U.S. companies can remain competitive in the global UAV market.”