The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) says a Government Accountability Office report warning drone exports are not sufficiently monitored is surprising given the extent of current regulations.
”I don’t know how the report is saying that they’re not tracking [unmanned aerial vehicle] sales very well. Because we know how strict the regulations are right now, the validity of the summary of the report surprises me,” Gretchen West, executive vice president of the association, said in a Sept. 14 interview with Inside the Pentagon. West said she had reviewed the GAO report’s summary, but had not yet read the full assessment.
According to West, many of AUVSI’s 580 corporate members have the desire to sell UAVs or UAV parts internationally, but are stymied by regulations that limit the sale of drone technology. Most drones are on the State Department’s U.S. Munitions List, with restrictions on selling UAVs to other countries for military use, she said.
”It’s classifying UAVs as missiles. That puts a very strong restriction on UAS sales overseas,” West said.
According to West, although most of AUVSI’s members want to be able to sell drones internationally, most of them are focused on the non-military market.
” A lot of what our members are focusing on and would like to sell is the civil market, not necessarily just the military market,” West said. ”A lot of these smaller systems, around 55 pounds, that are used for law enforcement, for search and rescue, a lot of these other systems, they do have sophisticated senors on them, but those are the types of things we’d like to see classified differently and more readily able to be exported.”
West said she had recently been told about a sale of UAVs where an American company lost the sale due to export restrictions. ”I have talked to several companies recently where there is some great concern that if some of the export restrictions aren’t eased, there are companies that are concerned that the United States is going to lose an advantage of being a front runner of technology and development because other countries are more easily able to sell across boarders,” West said.
”The less we’re able to export, other countries are able to, so we just lose a global advantage,” West said.
A Boeing spokeswoman also commented on the report. ”Our first priority is to protect technologies that are critical to our national security and to Boeing’s competitive position in the global marketplace,” she said. ”We operate in full compliance with U.S. export laws and regulations and have a comprehensive program in place to ensure adherence to U.S. technology transfer requirements.”
According to the GAO report, the rate at which countries are developing drone technologies has increased rapidly, and there is a fear that not all of the countries with the systems will be friendly to the United States. To combat the spread of the technology, GAO is not recommending additional restrictions of the sales of drones, but is recommending ways to better enforce existing restrictions.
GAO recommends that the secretary of State establish a mechanism in the licensing database to better enable the identification of licenses authorizing the export of drones and related components and technologies; all U.S. agencies with information relevant to the export licensing process should seek to improve mechanisms for information sharing; and that the State and Defense departments take steps to harmonize their approaches to end-use monitoring.
State and DOD both provided classified responses to GAO. The unclassified version of the GAO report says both agencies agreed with the recommendations.
”We acknowledge that the United States has to date transferred only a limited number of more sophisticated UAVs, but this does not lessen the importance of ensuring that UAVs the United States transfers to foreign recipients are well protected. Additionally, we note U.S. government officials we met with anticipate that the number of such UAVs transferred will increase in the future,” the report states.
Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) had requested the GAO conduct the report, and responded to the publication with a statement saying ”The fact that the U.S. government has allowed drone technology to fall into the hands of our enemies is extremely troubling for our country and our military. The administration must take immediate steps to increase efforts to curb the spread of drones and reduce this threat to our national security. I call on [DOD] and State to take swift action on the recommendations in this report.” — Stephanie Bergman