US unveils new policy for export of military unmanned aerial systems


Predator UAS

The US Department of State (DoS) has unveiled a new policy for the sale of armed military and commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to the foreign countries.

The export policy is part of a broader US UAS policy review. It aims to ensure that sales, transfers, and subsequent use of all US-origin drones supplements and builds upon the US Conventional Arms Transfer Policy and is consistent with the requirements of the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act.

In addition, the new guidelines supplement and build upon the Export Administration Regulations that govern all US commercial transfers.

According to the policy, sales and transfers of sensitive systems, such as military UASs, including armed systems, should be made through the government-to-government foreign military sales programme and after review by the Department of Defense technology security and foreign disclosure processes.

Potential buyers will have to agree to strict conditions, including adherence to international law such as international humanitarian law and human rights law, as well as a ban on using them for unlawful surveillance or to exert force against their citizens.

"The policy ensures appropriate participation for US industry in the emerging commercial UAS market, which will contribute to the health of the US industrial base."

In an effort to reduce the risk of unintended injury or damage, the buyers will also have to provide technical and doctrinal training to UAS operators on the use of such systems.

The policy maintains 'a strong presumption of denial' of sales of Missile Technology Control Regime Category I drones that have a range of at least 300km and can carry a payload of at least 500kg, but will allow such exports on 'rare occasions.'

The DoS said the policy provides the US with a disciplined and rigorous framework to enhance the operational capabilities and capacity of its allies, increase interoperability with them for coalition operations, ensure responsible use of drones, while easing the stress on US force structure for such capabilities.

A DoS representative said: "It [the policy] ensures appropriate participation for US industry in the emerging commercial UAS market, which will contribute to the health of the US industrial base, and thus to US national security which includes economic security."

To date, the UK is the only country to have acquired armed MQ-9 Reaper drones from the US, while France and Italy operate the non-lethal variants, Reuters reported.

Despite receiving criticism for their frequent killing of civilians, the weaponised UAS have extensively been used by the US for counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.


Image: A US' MQ-1B Predator UAS takes off from Ali Base, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo: courtesy of Tech Sgt Sabrina Johnson.