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Trump will ease restrictions on lethal drone sales to allies: new report

Gray Eagle drone (U.S. Army)
March 24, 2018

President Donald Trump will soon make it easier for the U.S. to export some of its lethal drones to dozens of allies and partners, Reuters exclusively reported this week.

The administration is expected to ease the rules on foreign sales of unmanned military aircraft as part of a broader overhaul of arms export regulations. The changes could come as early as this month.

Many U.S. drone manufacturers support the upcoming  changes due to the growing competition in the industry from other countries such as China and Israel, which can export their drones under much more lenient regulations.

“We’re getting outplayed all over the world,” a U.S. official told Reuters. “Why can our competitors sell to our own allies the equipment they are clamoring to buy from us? This policy is meant to turn that around.”

The Trump Administration is expected to incorporate these rule changes as part of the President’s “Buy American” initiative.

Trump has stressed the importance in creating jobs in the U.S., purchasing American-made products and reducing the country’s trade deficit.

However, some human rights and arms controls advocates are apprehensive about the upcoming changes, citing the risk of fueling violence and instability in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia.

Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow with the Arms Control Association, warned that an increase in drones sales “could put these weapons in the hands of governments that act irresponsibly with their neighbors and against their own populations.”

Sources told Reuters that the plan focuses mainly on the sale of smaller hunter-killer drones that carry fewer missiles and travel shorter distances, rather than larger models such as the well-known Predator drone. Regulations will also be eased for surveillance drones of all sizes.

Some of the countries who might benefit from the new regulations include NATO members, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners, as well as treaty allies such as Japan and South Korea. India, Singapore and Australia are also likely to be favored as potential key partners. Before these new regulations, the only sales of armed U.S. drones in recent years had been to Britain and Italy.

Proponents of the plan expressed that a more export-friendly approach will not only help meet Trump’s 2016 campaign promises to bolster America’s “defense industrial base” but also allow foreign partners to take on more of their own defense costs. Individuals with knowledge on the matter told Reuters that the new policy is rumored to be unveiled in coming weeks, though they also cautioned that the exact timing currently remains in flux.