drones 30 July 2020

US to ease export restrictions on armed drone exports

The Trump administration has announced it is loosening restrictions on exporting some military-grade drones, saying that the ‘presumption of denial’ that limited most sales under the Missile Technology Control Regime (‘MTCR’) will no longer apply to an armed unmanned aircraft system (‘UAS’) with a maximum airspeed of less than 800km per hour.

The policy shift, which would apply to drones such as the armed MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator, means that the United States will now treat requests for the purchase of some of its armed drones as Category II systems, which are more easily exportable than Category I systems, for which requests for overseas sales are almost automatically denied.

‘With this revision, the U.S. government will invoke its national discretion on the implementation of the Missile Technology Control Regime’s (MTCR’s)  “strong presumption of denial” for transfers of Category I systems to treat a carefully selected subset of MTCR Category I UAS with maximum airspeed less than 800 kilometres per hour as Category II,’  US State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said in a 24 July statement.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany released a statement saying: ‘While the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is critical in slowing proliferation and promoting peace and security, it is in dire need of modernization as it applies to UAS.’

‘Not only do these outdated standards give an unfair advantage to countries outside of the MTCR and hurt United States industry, they also hinder our deterrence capability abroad by handicapping our partners and allies with subpar technology,’ she said.  

McEnany explained that President Trump ‘decided to invoke our national discretion’ to go ahead and allow the sales after ‘more than two years of discussion with MTCR partners were unable to produce consensus on this overdue reform.’

‘The United States looks forward to all MTCR nations joining us in adopting this new standard,’ she said.

The MTCR is a multilateral export control regime based on an informal political understanding among 35 member states that seek to limit the proliferation of missiles and missile technology. It was formed in 1987 by the G-7 industrialised countries.

Speaking at the Hudson Institute shortly after the decision was announced, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Non-Proliferation Chris Ford said the administration plans to keep pushing other nations in the agreement to come to a similar stance, but that ‘the United States is not willing to let U.S. interests be forever held hostage’ by international decision-makers.

The move was met with immediate opposition from Democratic lawmakers, with the top Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee condemning it, while the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee commended the decision.