Changing Arm Controls Laws To Help Exports

Last Updated Dec 6, 2009 8:41 AM EST

The United States has invested heavily in Unmanned Aeriel Vehicles (UAV) for use not only in intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance but also in delivering attacks. The U.S. Air Force as well as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been using the General Atomics Predator A and B systems armed with Hellfire missiles. At the same time there have been a whole host of other systems mainly for surveillance and intelligence collection developed by the Army and Air Force in all sizes up to the strategic Global Hawk made by Northrop Grumman (NOC).

At the same time the U.S. and its Allies have developed laws and rules limiting technology exports to other countries. One of these is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). When this was originally developed the guided and ballistic missile were the primary delivery systems for nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The MTCR limits what systems and pieces can be sold overseas in case they are used to become delivery vehicles. Obviously the desire of U.S. companies to sell overseas can be limited by these kind of laws.

It has now come out that many large U.S. defense contractors are lobbying the Government o renegotiate or change the MTCR to allow exports of bigger and more advanced UAV systems. This is being driven by a desire to make sales to other countries. The rationale they are using is that most UAV are subsonic, maneuver and fly like aircraft and are not the same kind of threat as a ballistic or cruise missile.

Currently a company can apply to sell a system through the Government and get release from the restrictions of the MCTR. This has happened in a few cases, but a process like that takes time and money and a relaxation of the restrictions would make it easier to conduct marketing and sales.

There is no doubt that the U.S. military would benefit if these UAV systems were sold overseas. The more purchased would lower procurement costs while development could be shared with other customers. There might be a chance for new capabilities to arise if the overseas buyer had slightly different requirements. At the same time the U.S. must be careful not to sell technology or systems that could be modified to attack it. Certainly even a large subsonic UAV can carry a nuclear weapon and attack targets quite easily if defenses are not prepared.

The change in the MCTR is a policy decision. Is the chance of technology getting out worth the chance for increased sales and benefits to the United States economy? If there are no foriegn sales then the U.S. budget must pay for all new systems and development. This is a cost that might not be affordable in the near term. It certainly helps that there are customers ready and waiting for the U.S. product but at the same time there are those who threaten the U.S. or would like to steal its technology.

  • Matthew Potter

    Matthew Potter is a resident of Huntsville, Ala., where he works supporting U.S. Army aviation programs. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he began work as a defense contractor in Washington D.C. specializing in program management and budget development and execution. In the last 15 years Matthew has worked for several companies, large and small, involved in all aspects of government contracting and procurement. He holds two degrees in history as well as studying at the Defense Acquisition University. He has written for Seeking Alpha and at his own website, DefenseProcurementNews.com.