New reporting from Reuters Friday reveals that the Trump administration is paving the path to sell armed drones to nations including Saudi Arabia and UAE by moving to "reinterpret" a three-decades old arms export control arrangement.
At issue is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an agreement between 35 nations including the U.S. Established in 1987, its goal is to "maintain vigilance over the transfer of missile equipment, material, and related technologies usable for systems capable of delivering WMD."
MTCR "places particular focus on rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km and on equipment, software, and technology for such systems," says the website for the regime.
The planned interpretation, Reuters reported, citing information from weapons industry executives and a U.S. official, "could open up sales of armed U.S. drones to less stable governments such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates," which had thus far been barred from receiving such weaponry under the arms export controls in the MTCR.
Based on the news agency's reporting, major U.S. weapons manufacturers appear eager for the potential change:
U.S. drone manufacturers, face growing competition overseas especially from Chinese and Israeli rivals who have far fewer rules limiting sales.The defense contractors are vying for a larger share of the global military drone market, which the Teal Group, a market research firm, forecast annual sales, research and development will rise from $15.8 billion in 2020 to nearly $20 billion by 2029.
Bart Roper, Senior Vice President for Strategic Development at General Atomics, said the firm has been limited under current policy and that a liberalization of the rules could result in "hundreds" of new sales. Roper, who did not confirm the policy change, said there is strong interest from Middle East and Southeast Asian customers that have been forced to purchase aircraft from the Chinese because of a lack of U.S. alternatives.
A Northrop Grumman spokesman added that increased drone exports would lead to closer work on the technology with allies, helping keep U.S. drones state-of-the-art.
Approved sales under the new interpretation are expected "as soon as this summer" following a review next week by the White House National Security Council, the outlet added, adding that it "could not determine what specific criteria the State Department will use in scrutinizing weapons deals under the new interpretation."
Reuters also noted that the move is "part of a broader Trump administration effort to sell more weapons overseas."