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US to ease drone export rules

written by Sandy Milne | July 27, 2020

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper would be one of many models up for grabs under proposed changes to the MTCR framework (Source: Northrop Grumman).

The White House has announced plans to ease restrictions on drone exports under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a Cold War-era framework that considers large drones to fall within the same category as cruise missiles.

US President Donald Trump has said that his administration plans to “invoke … national discretion” to effect the change, which will exclude drones that fly under 800km/h from those provisions.

Formed in 1987 by the Group of Seven, the MTCR has since expanded to cover an additional 28 nations including Russia, Brazil, and Turkey. The current arrangement results in a presumption of denial for category-1 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are those systems capable of carrying 500-kilogram payloads for more than 300 kilometres.

Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs at the Department of State, insisted that the new policy will help US allies “meet their urgent national security and commercial requirements”.

His comments were echoed by White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who said that the MTCR was outdated and “hindered deterrence capability abroad by handicapping our partners and allies with subpar technology”.

“Approving or denying [an unmanned aircraft system] sale to any country is a whole-of-government decision and takes into account our national security, nonproliferation, and foreign policy objectives, as well as the purchasing country’s ability to responsibly use and safeguard United States-origin technology,” she said in a statement.

The move comes just shortly after the US opted to withdraw from the Open Skies treaty, citing Russian non-compliance.


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