US Overhauls Military RPA Export Controls

The US State Department has updated its policy guidelines for the export of military-grade remotely piloted aircraft systems, a move that could widen the sale of systems such as the MQ-9 Reaper to allies and partner nations. The policy, which governs the sale and transfer of “US origin systems,” is part of a broader US review of unmanned systems that includes plans to work with other countries to “shape international standards for the sale, transfer, and subsequent use of military (RPAs),” according to the announcement. The sale of “sensitive items” must be through the foreign military sales program, and certain monitoring and additional “security conditions” must be fulfilled, the policy states. Operators must use the RPAs for “national self defense” and must refrain from “unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force” against their domestic populations. A handful of US allies, such as Great Britain and France, already operate MQ-9s. In addition to “enhancing the operational capabilities and capacity of trusted partner nations,” the new policy also aims to tamp down demand for USAF RPA assets in coalition operations. RPAs operated by trusted allies will help ease “the stress on US force structure for these capabilities,” it states. USAF Lt. Gen. Bob Otto, the Air Staff’s ISR director, declined to comment on the new policy Wednesday at an AFA breakfast event, saying he is still reviewing the guidelines.