President Donald Trump is expected to ease up on the rules related to foreign sales under a new policy on unmanned military aircraft as part of a broader overhaul of arms export regulations as part of the “Buy American” initiative. The new policy could make it easier to export some types of lethal U.S.-manufactured drones to U.S. allies. This is good news to many U.S. drone manufacturers who are facing surging competition overseas from Chinese and Israeli manufacturers who often sell their drones under lighter restrictions. On the other side, human rights and arm control advocates worry that this policy change will only fuel violence and instability in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia.
A key aspect of this policy would be to lower barriers to sales of smaller hunter-killer drones that can carry a fewer number of missiles and travel shorter distances. This policy would also ease export regulations for surveillance drones of all sizes. Even though this policy stops short of completely opening up the ability to sell top-of-the-line lethal drones, it could mark a big step forward toward the U.S. tradition against selling armed drones to countries other than only the most trusted allies.
U.S. drone manufacturers are vying for a bigger share of the global military drone market in hopes of meeting the projected forecast from $2.8 billion in sales in 2016 to $9.4 billion by 2025.
This new policy is expected in the coming weeks, but no exact timeframe has yet been released.