The State Department announced Feb. 17 a new policy governing the international sale, transfer and subsequent use of U.S.-origin military and commercial unmanned aerial systems (aka drones). According to State, this policy “provides a disciplined and rigorous framework within which the United States will exercise restraint in sales and transfers and advance its national security and foreign policy interests, which includes enhancing the operational capabilities and capacity of trusted partner nations, increasing U.S. interoperability with these partners for coalition operations, ensuring responsible use of these systems, and easing the stress on U.S. force structure for these capabilities.” It also “ensures appropriate participation for U.S. industry in the emerging commercial UAS market, which will contribute to the health of the U.S. industrial base, and thus to U.S. national security which includes economic security.”
Military UAS. The new policy establishes the standards by which the U.S. will assess, on a case-by-case basis under the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, potential exports of military UAS, including armed systems. The policy puts in place stringent conditions on the sale or transfer of military UAS, including potential requirements for:
- sales and transfers of sensitive systems to be made through the government-to-government Foreign Military Sales program;
- review of potential transfers to be made through the Department of Defense Technology Security and Foreign Disclosure processes;
- each recipient nation to agree to end-use assurances as a condition of sale or transfer;
- end-use monitoring and potential additional security conditions; and
- all sales and transfers to include agreement to principles for proper use.
The new policy also maintains the United States’ longstanding commitments under the Missile Technology Control Regime, which subjects transfers of military and commercial systems that are capable of a range of at least 300 kilometers and of carrying a payload of at least 500 kilograms to a “strong presumption of denial” for export but also permits such exports on “rare
occasions” that are well-justified in terms of the nonproliferation and export control factors specified in the MTCR Guidelines.
Under this policy, recipients of U.S.-origin military UAS must agree to the following principles guiding proper use before the U.S. will authorize any sales or transfers of military UAS.
- recipients are to use these systems in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as applicable
- armed and other advanced UAS are to be used in operations involving the use of force only when there is a lawful basis for use of force under international law, such as national self-defense
- recipients are not to use military UAS to conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic populations
- as appropriate, recipients must provide UAS operators technical and doctrinal training on the use of these systems to reduce the risk of unintended injury or damage
The U.S. is committed to working with other countries to adopt similar standards for the sale, transfer and subsequent use for military UAS.
Commercial UAS. All commercial UAS will be reviewed under the requirements and licensing policies described in the Export Administration Regulations.