U.S. Export Policy Allows Wider Unmanned Aircraft Sales

 - February 17, 2015, 8:17 PM
The new U.S. export policy allows for the wider sale to other countries of armed drones, such as the MQ-9 Reaper. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. State Department on February 17 announced a new export policy that provides for the sale of U.S.-made military and commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to other nations on a case-by-case basis, a broader accommodation than it previously allowed. The policy requires recipient nations to agree to “end use assurances” as a condition of sale.

The result of an internal review and a product of the Obama administration’s export control reform effort, the liberalized policy establishes standards by which the government will assess potential exports of military UAS, including armed systems, to nations other than close allies. It “provides a disciplined and rigorous framework within which the United States will exercise restraint in sales and transfers and advance its national security and foreign policy interests,” the State Department said.

The U.S. supplied General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers to the UK, Italy and France, although only the British Royal Air Force has used them to fire weapons. On February 6, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible foreign military sale of four Reapers and associated equipment to the Netherlands. General Atomics plans to sell the Predator XP export variant of the MQ-1 to the UAE. The U.S. will supply Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks to Korea and Japan, and the MQ-4C Triton naval version to Australia. Lockheed Martin sold the Desert Hawk mini-UAV system to the UK. Aerovironment has sold mini-UAVs to at least 19 countries.

Under the new export policy, recipient nations must agree to several principles, among them to use unmanned aircraft in accordance with international law; to use armed UAS only for self defense or when there is a lawful basis for the use of force; and to refrain from using drones for unlawful surveillance or force against their domestic populations. There is also the possibility the U.S. will insist on end-use monitoring.

The policy maintains U.S commitments to the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which seeks to contain the proliferation of missiles and unmanned systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. Under the MTCR, there is a “strong presumption of denial” when considering the transfer of systems capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg (1,102 pounds) to a range of 300 km (186 miles), although rare exceptions are made, State said.

Freeing the sale of civilian systems to international customers “ensures appropriate participation for U.S. industry in the emerging commercial UAS market, which will contribute to the health of the U.S. industrial base,” the department said.