March 26, 2010

US Hopes To Export Drone Technologies

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that rival drone programs from nations like Iran are not a threat to coveted US drone technologies, which he hopes he can export to allies, despite legal setbacks, according to a Reuters report.

Testifying at a Senate hearing, Gates said it should be in the US's best interest to try to help friendly nations get drone technology, despite the limitations on exports imposed by an international agreement.

Gates added that other countries are very interested in this technology and "frankly it is, in my view, in our interest to see what we can do to accommodate them."

The drones are a crucial technological advantage for the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, which allows the military to remotely track and kill insurgents and also giving troops eyes-in-the-sky imagery in real time.

Drones have been used by the CIA, arming them with missiles to find and attack al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.

Gates noted that our troops have been lucky so far that they have not been in situations where drone technology has not been used against us anywhere. But that could change. He cited Iran, which he said is providing limited support to Afghan insurgents, and is developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

If Iran can use UAVs, it should be a concern because if they chose to, "in both Iraq and Afghanistan, they could create difficulties for us," Gates said. Although, he added that their UAVs are "relatively slow flyers" and the Air Force could easily neutralize them if they threatened US forces.

Gates said that militant groups were a bigger concern, however, when it comes to the spread of drone technology. "My worry would be capabilities like this getting into the hands of non-state actors who could use them for terrorist purposes."

US military use of drone technology could double over the next five years after a 600 percent increase since 2004.

The US aerospace industry wants to change the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a pact made by 34 countries aimed at curbing the spread of unmanned delivery systems that could be used for weapons of mass destruction.

Gates said he was also concerned about the spread of the technology to adversaries, but said that UAVs from the United States have only been sold to Italy and Britain so far. "With respect to export"¦ I think there are some specific cases where we have allies with whom we have formal treaty alliances who have expressed interest in these capabilities," he said.

These countries know there are limitations in what we can do by the MTCR, "but I think it's something we need to pursue with them," he added.

Countries including South Korea, Japan and Singapore as well as Britain, Spain and Canada have been increasingly interested in the Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk, a drone that provides surveillance capabilities. The US announced that it plans to give Pakistan drones with the surveillance technology, but Islamabad also wants shoot-and-kill drones, like the Predator, which can be armed with missiles.


Image Caption: United States Air Force Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. Courtesy US Air Force


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