Despite a legal pact designed to slow the proliferation of unmanned systems, the Pentagon hopes to export U.S. drone technology to allies, Reuters reported.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified before a Senate hearing that it was in the United States’ interest to share drone technology with allies despite the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a pact signed by at least 34 countries. "There are other countries that are very interested in this capability and frankly it is, in my view, in our interest to see what we can do to accommodate them," Gates said.
The U.S. military's demand for unmanned aircraft has risen 600% since 2004 and will continue to double over the next five years, Reuters reported, citing U.S. aerospace industry estimates. The drones have been a deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, giving American forces the ability to track and kill insurgents, and providing a birds-eye view of the battleground that can be transmitted in real time to soldiers in the field. The CIA has also used unmanned aerial vehicles armed with missiles to kill Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.
Among the countries that have shown interest in acquiring Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk, a drone that can provide surveillance capabilities, are South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Canada and the United Kingdom, a company spokesman told Reuters in late 2009.
"With respect to export … I think there are some specific cases where we have allies with whom we have a formal treaty alliance who have expressed interest in these capabilities," Gates said. "And we have told them that we are limited in what we can do by MTCR, but I think it's something we need to pursue with them." He added that he understood the concerns about the proliferation of unmanned technologies to rivals, but so far the U.S. has sold programs only to Italy and the UK, Reuters reported.
Gates noted that Iran is developing unmanned aerial vehicles, which could cause difficulties for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, however, that drones are "relatively low flyers" and could be neutralized easily by the Air Force if necessary, Reuters reported. "I think our ability to protect our troops from these things, particularly in a theater of combat like this, is actually quite good."