U.S. Export Controls of Unmanned Aircraft Being Reviewed

 - July 21, 2014, 8:17 AM
Senior U.S. government executives participated in an export control panel discussion at the Farnborough Airshow. (Photo: Bill Carey)

The U.S. government has nearly completed revising its export controls for aerospace-related products, but it has not resolved how to manage exports of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and components, senior officials said last week at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Under an export control reform initiative started in 2010, the Obama administration has moved items considered to be non-sensitive or having dual military and commercial uses from the U.S. Munitions List (USML) the State Department administers to the Commerce Control List (CCL) the Department of Commerce oversees. The USML is subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) controlling the export of defense-related items.

By moving certain items from the USML to the CCL, the government contends, it can better focus its resources on items that require the highest level of export scrutiny. At the same time, the reform initiative aims to help American companies sell their products overseas by streamlining the authorization process for non-sensitive and dual-use items.

On July 1, the State and Commerce departments published final rules for USML Category 11 for military and other advanced electronics, shifting less sensitive equipment, parts and components from the USML to the CCL. The changes take effect on December 30. With those new rules, 15 of 21 USML categories have been revised. Other categories the government has revised include radiation-hardened microcircuits, satellites and components and aircraft and gas-turbine engines.

“We really have made a huge amount of progress. The initial review of the U.S. Munitions List…is really almost done,” Ken Handelman, State Department deputy assistant secretary of state for defense trade controls, said during a panel presentation the U.S. Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) sponsored at Farnborough.

However, export controls of UAS, which are also subject to the restrictions agreed by the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), are still being reviewed internally, he said. The MTCR is a separate regime that U.S. manufacturers contend has limited their ability to sell unmanned aircraft and components to other countries.

“I’m not going make any news today,” Handelman said. “As all of you know, there has been ongoing for quite a long time intense conversations within the U.S. government. We think there will be a lot to say in due course that is very helpful to exporters and also to our allies who have been hoping to take advantage of the very good technology that U.S. companies produce. But right now that process is still internal to the U.S. government, so please stay tuned.” Restrictions the MTCR imposes are being considered as part of the internal review, he said.

Accompanying Handelman on the panel on July 14 were Beth McCormick, director of the Department of Defense Technology Security Administration and Kevin Wolf, Department of Commerce assistant secretary for export administration.


Should these export restrictions be removed along with the FAA finally announing clear-cut drone guidlines, the drone industry will finally be cleared for takeoff. This should be viewed as a very positive development.