The State Department announced Tuesday that the US will sell armed drones for sale to foreign countries. Meant to empower American allies, many fear exports will spread the deadly technology to countries unfit to handle it.
On Tuesday, the State Department announced that the US would begin accepting applications by foreign states seeking to purchase American-made, armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or “drones for sale”).
The US has pioneered the development and implementation of drones for sale as weapons of war, but it has long been reluctant to sell them.
With countries like China and Israel manufacturing their own UAVs, however, the American monopoly has eroded. The decision to begin drone sales stems largely from a desire to influence how the technology continues to spread.
“As other nations begin to employ military [UAVs] more regularly, and as the nascent commercial UAS market emerges,” the State Department said Tuesday, “the United States has a responsibility to ensure that sales, transfers, and subsequent use of all U.S.-origin [UAVs] are responsible and consistent with U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”
The decision came after a two-year review process and includes a number of conditions for applicant countries. The conditions aim to ensure that drones for sale are used in a way consistent with stated US values. For example, recipient states are expressly prohibited from using American UAVs in contravention of international law or, domestically, for the purpose of “unlawful surveillance” of their populations.
The State Department’s announcement also opens the way for American arms companies to better compete with foreign firms in a lucrative new market. Global drone sales have been estimated to total a yearly $6 billion, with one armed Reaper drone fetching between $10-15 million.
Drone exports will adhere to rules governing conventional arms sales. Deals will only be made between the US government and other states, and all major transactions will be subject to congressional approval.