WASHINGTON: The Trump administration should unilaterally declare that it will no longer subject drone sales to export control restrictions under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), says a new Mitchell Institute study.
And Congress should use the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to redefine unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as aircraft, which not only remove them from MTCR restrictions but also would ease US domestic export controls, asserts the paper, “”Modernizing UAV Export Policy for Effective Coalition Forces,”.
“The US Congress should craft language in the 2021 NDAA that defines UAVs as aircraft, not cruise missiles, but as aircraft, and subject to the same export considerations as any other military aircraft,” said Heather Penny, senior resident fellow at Mitchell and the paper’s author, during a webinar today. “We believe that this language, a statute, would be sufficient to be able to remove UAVs from being subject to the MTCR guidelines.”
The 35-nation MTCR agreement requires a “strong presumption of denial” for sales of so-called Category 1 drones — those that can carry a 500 kilogram payload more than 300 kilometers. The Category 1 definition is considered as the minimum capability a missile needs to carry a nuclear warhead. Smaller unmanned aerial vehicles also are covered under MTCR’s Category 2 rules, but those export restrictions are less stringent.
Even the treaty-hating Trump administration sees the MTCR — a political agreement rather than a treaty — as a key tool in preventing the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles. This is despite its long-standing efforts to ease drone sales to allies, including through revamping US domestic law to allow “Direct Commercial Sales” by companies, rather than requiring all sales to go through the formal Foreign Military Sales process that requires approval by DoD, the State Department and Congress.
Indeed, over the past year the administration tried — and failed — to convince its MTCR partners to revamp the rules to allow drones flying less than 800 kilometers per hour to slip out from under the Category 1 rules, said Penny.