Obama Approves Sales of Armed Drones to Foreign Governments besides U.K.

Thursday, February 19, 2015
Armed MQ-9 Reaper drone flying over Afghanistan (photo: Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt, US Air Force/AP)

With the encouragement of U.S. defense contractors, the Obama administration has decided to allow the export of armed drones to countries other than the United Kingdom, which until now was the only ally permitted to buy the technology.


The announcement did not say which foreign governments were next in line to acquire weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles. But The Washington Post reported “allied nations from Italy to Turkey to the Persian Gulf region” have wanted to get their hands on drones that can attack targets. Some unarmed drones have been sold to France, Italy and other NATO countries to support intelligence gathering.


The new policy does come with the restriction that buyers cannot use the American-made drones “to conduct unlawful surveillance or [for] unlawful force against their domestic populations,” according to an unclassified summary. Sales would also be subject to “a strong presumption of denial,” meaning governments would have to present a strong case for acquiring the drones.


The prohibition raises questions about selling drones to governments such as Turkey’s that have been accused of human rights violations and trying to suppress political dissent.


Manufacturers in China and Israel also produce armed drones. China has sold technologies with military applications to other countries, making it a potential competitor with American drone manufacturers.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Obama Administration to Allow Sales of Armed Drones to Allies (by Missy Ryan, Washington Post)

U.S. Export Policy for Military Unmanned Aerial Systems (State Department)

U.S. Congress Authorizes the Sale of 16 Drones to France for $1.5 Billion(by Anne-Laure Chanteloup, AllGov)

Drone Makers Push to be Allowed to Expand Foreign Sales (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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