The Origins of the Drone Program

Editor’s Note: The armed drone is one of the most important counterterrorism instruments, and its use is both constant and controversial. The origins of this program, however, are not well known. Christopher Fuller, a historian at the University of Southampton, offers a brief history of the program and shows how it is interwoven with broader institutional changes in U.S. counterterrorism.


Of all of the weapons in the U.S. arsenal, none is more associated with the current conflict against terrorist forces than the armed drone. From the first lethal strike on the opening night of Operation Enduring Freedom, to the controversy surrounding the targeted killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been at the forefront of America’s post-9/11 conflicts. Their capabilities have shaped U.S. counterterrorism policy, and forced an evolution in the Laws of Armed Conflict,