US senators move to block Saudi drone sales

written by Sandy Milne | August 7, 2020
Lawmakers have expressed concern that high-tech drones – like the MQ-9 Reaper may make their way into the wrong hands (Source: US Air Force/William Rio Rosado).

A White House bid to reinterpret the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has come under fire from a bipartisan group of senators, after the latter introduced legislation on Thursday that would block international sales of US-made drones to most foreign countries.

Late last month, the administration revealed plans to ease MTCR export rules, which would permit the unrestricted sale of drones that fly under 800km/h.

At the time, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted the framework was outdated, saying it “hinders deterrence capability abroad by handicapping our partners and allies with subpar technology”.

Amid concern that the changes will put the drones into the hands of Saudi-backed rebels in Yemen, pushback has come from a broad base of lawmakers – including high-profile Republican senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, who co-sponsored the bill.

If successful, the legislation would amend the Arms Export Control Act to prohibit the export, transfer or trade of many advanced drones except to countries that are NATO members and to Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Israel.

The news comes as the US is negotiating the sale of at least four SeaGuardian surveillance drones to Taiwan for the first time, which would ramp up the island nation’s fleet range from 160 to 6,000 nautical miles.

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