The Trump Administration loosened restrictions on the marketing and sale of armed unmanned air vehicles by US aerospace manufacturers to foreign nations on 19 April.
The new export rules allow US companies to sell and market armed military drones to US allies and partner under the direct commercial sales process, eliminating the need to go through the State Department via the foreign military sales system.
The change was billed by the State Department as a means to speed up the sale and delivery of US drones to foreign countries, many of which are also considering drones manufactured by Chinese and Russian companies.
“Providing our allies and partners with greater access to American arms will also reduce their reliance not just on Chinese knockoffs, but also on Russian systems, consistent with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” says Peter Navarro, assistant to the president for trade and manufacturing policy. “For too long we have hamstrung ourselves and limited our ability to provide our allies and partners with the defensive capabilities they require, even when in the US interest.”
The arms sale policy will eliminate the need for manufacturers selling unarmed UAVs equipped with laser target designators to go through the Foreign Military Sales process.
Instead, it allows companies to sell such UAVs directly to foreign customers, said Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary for political-military affairs.
Drone sales will still be subject to review from the US government, despite the streamlined sales process, the State Department said. All potential military UAS sales will be subject to a State Department-led assessment under the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy and Department of Defense-led assessment regarding technology security.
The State Department has not changed its policies regarding its Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an international agreement which also governs fast-moving drones that could be mistaken for a cruise missile, but is looking to update the policy, Kaidanow said.
The lack of changes to the MTCR might disappoint some drone manufacturers who were looking for eased restrictions to sell their UAVs abroad. For instance, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems disclosed the pursuit of a potential sale of 90 jet-powered Predator C Avengers to an undisclosed international customer in August 2017, but said it faced hurdles from MTCR restrictions.
And though Navarro stressed that the goal of the Trump administration’s export rule changes is to promote “buy American, hire American,” deputy assistant secretary for Political-Military Affairs Kaidanow acknowledged that the State Department would allow companies to negotiate with foreign countries – for example, states in the Middle East or India – deals such as co-production, which could outsource manufacturing in order to close sales.