Army Explores Counter-Drone Techniques

Having developed and utilized unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) for surveillance, targeting and attack, the US military now finds itself in the position of having to defend against the same technology.

The US Army last week issued a new manual on Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System Techniques (ATP 3-01.81, April 13, 2017).

“UASs have advanced technologically and proliferated exponentially over the past decade,” the manual notes. “As technology has progressed, both reconnaissance and attack capabilities have matured to the point where UASs represent a significant threat to Army, joint, and multinational partner operations from both state and non-state actors.”

The unclassified Army document describes the nature of the threat and then considers the options that are available for dealing with it. These range from various forms of attack avoidance (“Operate at night or during limited visibility”) to active defense, such as surface-to-air weapons.

“Defending against UAS is a difficult task and no single solution exists to defeat all categories of the… threat,” the manual says.

Last week, the Islamic State released video footage of one of its drones dropping a bomb on an Iraqi target, Newsweek reported.

Defending U.S. Forces Against Enemy Drones

Enemy use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) is a growing threat to U.S. forces because of their low cost, versatility, and ease of use, according to a recent U.S. Army doctrinal publication.

“The UAS is the most challenging and prevalent threat platform to combined arms forces and therefore, a logical choice for enemy use.”

See Techniques for Combined Arms for Air Defense, Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 3-01.8, July 29, 2016.

As is the case with U.S.-operated drones, enemy UAS can be used to perform a range of functions from battlefield surveillance and targeting to precision strike, the Army document said. “The enemy will use UAS to fulfill multiple attack roles.”

The drone may deliver a weapon or be used as a weapon itself. “As an indirect attack platform, the UAS has the ability to carry the improvised explosive device or become the improvised explosive device.”

“Perhaps the most dangerous COA [course of action]… is the Swarm” in which “clusters of UAS” are used by an adversary simultaneously for surveillance, indirect attack and direct attack.

What to do about this? The answer is not fully articulated in the Army manual.

“Proper planning by leaders will ensure that units employ adequate force protection measures to counter the UAS threat. Units must develop tactics, techniques and procedures to counter this threat in their respective areas of operation.”

Simply destroying the enemy drone is not necessarily the right move, the manual said.

“Defeat does not equate [to] kinetic means; however, it is an option. Other defeat solutions could be limiting a surveillance threat from gaining information or following the air path of the UAS to the operator.”

Islamic State forces have used drones bearing explosive devices, the New York Times reported this month. See “Pentagon Confronts a New Threat From ISIS: Exploding Drones” by Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt, October 11.

Just last week, the U.S. Air Force detected and destroyed a drone “in the vicinity” of U.S. forces, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said yesterday. See “Air Force: Small, weaponized drones a growing combat problem” by Jacqueline Klimas, Washington Examiner, October 24.

Delivery Drones, Confederate Flags, and More from CRS

The growing prospect of the use of drones for commercial delivery purposes is considered in a new memorandum from the Congressional Research Service.

“Can you prevent a drone from flying over your house to deliver a package to your neighbor? Until now, that question has been of purely theoretical interest. However, the Senate recently passed a bill that could significantly change the operational landscape for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) and make these kinds of hypothetical delivery drones a reality,” the CRS memo begins. See Delivery Drones: Coming to the Sky Near You?, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 6, 2016.

U.S. Army policy “allows a small Confederate flag of a size not to exceed that of the U.S. flag to be placed on Confederate graves at private expense, either on Memorial Day or on the day when Confederate Memorial Day is observed” (which is today in North Carolina and South Carolina). However, it must be removed on the first workday thereafter. See Display of the Confederate Flag at Federal Cemeteries in the United States, CRS Insight, updated May 4, 2016.

New Interior Department regulations “aim to reduce the risk of an offshore oil or gas blowout that could jeopardize human safety and harm the environment.” See The Department of the Interior’s Final Rule on Offshore Well Control, CRS Insight, May 5, 2016.

The “Senate should not confirm a nominee to the United States Supreme Court whose professional record or statements display opposition to the Second Amendment freedoms of law-abiding gun owners, including the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms,” a recent House Resolution opines. A May 6 CRS brief therefore asks: What, If Anything, Has Judge Garland Said About the Second Amendment and Guns?

The amount of money sent by migrants in the U.S. to their home countries exceeded $432 billion in 2015, which is larger than official development assistance and more stable than private capital flows to these countries. See Remittances: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 9, 2016.

The Administration’s FY2017 budget request for the Department of Justice “includes proposals to either increase funding for existing programs or fund new programs that seek to address several issues that have risen to national prominence recently, such as concerns about gun violence in cities across the country, the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve, violent extremism and ‘home-grown’ terrorism, preparing inmates to return to society after a period of incarceration, cybersecurity, and an increase in heroin addiction.” See FY2017 Appropriations for the Department of Justice, May 4, 2016 and FY2017 Appropriations for the Department of Justice Grant Programs, May 4, 2016.

Individuals who are not regular congressional employees can provide assistance to congressional offices as interns, volunteers, fellows, or pages, which are all distinct functions. See Internships in Congressional Offices: Frequently Asked Questions, May 6, 2016.

“The House is expected to vote on a dozen or more bills related to heroin and prescription opioid abuse during the week of May 9, leading some to dub this week ‘Opioid Week’ in the House.” See Active Opioid Legislation in the House: In Brief, May 9, 2016 and The Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713): A Summary, May 5, 2016.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “is perhaps the most ambitious [Free Trade Agreement] undertaken by the United States in terms of its size, the breadth and depth of its commitments, its potential evolution, and its geo-political significance.” See The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Key Provisions and Issues for Congress, May 4, 2016.

DoD Use of Domestic Drones Complies with Law, IG Says

The domestic use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) by the Department of Defense in support of civil authorities has been conducted in accordance with law and policy, the DoD Inspector General said in a 2015 report of an evaluation that was released last week.

“DoD is fully compliant with laws, regulations, and national policies for UAS support to civil authorities,” the DoD IG report said.

“We found no evidence that any DoD entity using UAS’s or associated PED [processing, exploitation, and dissemination] in support of domestic civil authorities, to date, has violated or is not in compliance with all statutory, policy, or intelligence oversight requirements.”

Oddly, that conclusion was marked “For Official Use Only.”  See Evaluation of DoD Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for Support to Civil Authorities, DoD Inspector General report DODIG-2015-097, March 20, 2015. The partially redacted report was released last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

DoD support to civil authorities using drones can be provided, given proper authorization, for domestic emergencies, support to law enforcement, or to provide added security for high-profile “special events.”

Domestic use of drones by DoD for such purposes is comparatively rare. The DoD Inspector General reported that between 2006 and 2015 there were “less than twenty events that could be categorized as DoD UAS support to domestic civil authorities,” and that that number included “both approved and disapproved requests.”

The Department of Defense provided updated Guidance for the Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems last year in a February 17, 2015 policy memorandum.

“Armed DoD UAS may not be used in the United States for other than training, exercises, and testing purposes,” the memo said.

Drones in Domestic Airspace, and More from CRS

A survey of policy issues raised by the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in domestic U.S. airspace was presented in a new report yesterday from the Congressional Research Service.

The report described the current and projected market for UAS, applications of UAS in government and industry, safety and security issues, the current regulatory environment, and pending legislation affecting UAS. See Unmanned Aircraft Operations in Domestic Airspace: U.S. Policy Perspectives and the Regulatory Landscape, January 27, 2016.

“As UAS technology develops rapidly, the United States faces significant challenges in balancing safety requirements, privacy concerns, and economic interests,” the CRS report said.

“Hundreds of thousands of small UAS are already being operated as recreational model aircraft and hobby drones that are permitted under a special rule for model aircraft…. In addition, several hundred public agencies and more than 3,000 businesses have been granted approval to operate UAS on a case-by-case basis. Once regulations and guidelines are put in place, large growth in UAS operations is anticipated.”

“As UAS operations have increased, a number of safety concerns have emerged, particularly with regard to use of model aircraft and hobby drones. UAS flights have interfered with airline crews near busy airports and with aircraft fighting wildfires, and have posed safety and security hazards at outdoor events and in restricted areas.”

“To address both safety and security concerns, a number of technology solutions are being examined to detect airborne UAS and pinpoint the location of the operator. Technologies to disable, jam, take control over, or potentially destroy a small UAS are also being developed and tested.”

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In another new report issued yesterday, CRS presented statistics on how the Senate responded to judicial nominations in the eighth year of the Reagan, Clinton and GW Bush presidencies.

“More than half of the circuit court nominations that were pending before the Senate during each President’s final year in office were not confirmed by the Senate,” the report found. See Final Senate Action on U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations During a President’s Eighth Year in Office, January 27, 2016.

Also newly updated this week is Ozone Air Quality Standards: EPA’s 2015 Revision, January 25, 2016.

Defense Support of Civil Authorities, Updated

Before the Department of Defense can use an unmanned aerial system within the United States for domestic operations such as search and rescue missions or disaster response, specific authorization from the Secretary of Defense is necessary.

However, if DoD wants to use a UAS to help control domestic civil disturbances (such as a riot or insurrection), then further authorization from the President of the United State is required.

The patchwork of legal authorities and requirements for domestic military missions is presented in a newly updated DoD manual on Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA).

Military support to civil authorities may be prompted by a variety of natural disasters and emergencies, including wildfires, earthquakes, floods, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear accidents or attacks, and — a new addition — cyber incidents. But such domestic missions have their own peculiar characteristics.

“Operations conducted by the US military in the homeland and US territories are very different from operations conducted overseas,” the DoD manual says, particularly since they are executed “under the authority and within the limitations of federal, state, and local laws.”

In particular, “For fear of military encroachment on civil authority and domestic governance, the PCA [Posse Comitatus Act] and policy limit DOD support to LEA [Law Enforcement Agencies],” the manual says.

More specifically, “DOD directives prohibit interdicting vehicles, searches and seizures, arrest, and similar activities (e.g., apprehension, stop, and frisk). Furthermore, engaging in questioning potential witnesses; using force or threats to do so, except in self-defense or defense of others; collecting evidence; forensic testing; and surveillance or pursuit of individuals or vehicles is prohibited.”

On the other hand, “the Insurrection Act permits the POTUS [President of the United States] to use armed forces under a limited set of specific circumstances and subject to certain limitations.”

(The President has used the authority under the Insurrection Act twice in recent history. In September 1989 the President ordered federal troops to the US Virgin Islands to restore order in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. In April 1992 the President ordered federal troops to restore order in Los Angeles during riots following the Rodney King verdict.)

The updated manual includes a new appendix presenting a matrix of domestic military missions along with the relevant approval authority and policy guidance.

For the first time, the manual includes “cyberspace-related incidents” among the circumstances that may trigger military involvement in domestic matters.

“Large-scale cyber incidents may overwhelm government and private-sector resources by disrupting the internet and taxing critical infrastructure information systems. Complications from disruptions of this magnitude may threaten lives, property, the economy, and national security…. State and local networks operating in a disrupted or degraded environment may require DOD assistance.”

See Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA), Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, September 2015.

The authorized use of DoD unmanned aerial systems in domestic operations is described in Guidance for the Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Policy Memorandum 15-002, February 17, 2015.

Drones, Pope Francis, Encryption, and More from CRS

A new report from the Congressional Research Service looks at the commercial prospects for the emerging drone industry.

“It has been estimated that, over the next 10 years, worldwide production of UAS for all types of applications could rise from $4 billion annually to $14 billion. However, the lack of a regulatory framework, which has delayed commercial deployment, may slow development of a domestic UAS manufacturing industry,” the report said. See Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS): Commercial Outlook for a New Industry, September 9, 2015.

In advance of the September 2227 visit to the United States by Pope Francis, another new CRS report “provides Members of Congress with background information on Pope Francis and a summary of a few selected global issues of congressional interest that have figured prominently on his agenda.” See Pope Francis and Selected Global Issues: Background for Papal Address to Congress, September 8, 2015.

Another new report from CRS on encryption and law enforcement presents “an overview of the perennial issue involving technology outpacing law enforcement and discusses how policy makers and law enforcement officials have dealt with this issue in the past.” See Encryption and Evolving Technology: Implications for U.S. Law Enforcement, September 8, 2015.

Other new and newly updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Syrian Refugee Admissions to the United StatesCRS Insight, September 10, 2015

An Analysis of Efforts to Double Federal Funding for Physical Sciences and Engineering Research, updated September 8, 2015

Cybersecurity: Data, Statistics, and Glossaries, updated September 8, 2015

Cybersecurity: Legislation, Hearings, and Executive Branch Documents, updated September 8, 2015

The EMV Chip Card Transition: Background, Status, and Issues for Congress, updated September 8, 2015

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, udpated September 10, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, updated September 8, 2015

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, updated September 10, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement, updated September 9, 2015

Statutory Qualifications for Executive Branch Positions, updated September 9, 2015

Federal Reserve: Emergency Lending, September 8, 2015

 

Domestic Drones & Privacy, and More from CRS

The anticipated deployment of thousands of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — or drones — in American skies raises unresolved privacy concerns that have barely begun to be addressed, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

The CRS report provides “a primer on privacy issues related to various UAS operations, both public and private, including an overview of current UAS uses, the privacy interests implicated by these operations, and various potential approaches to UAS privacy regulation.” See Domestic Drones and Privacy: A Primer, March 30, 2015.

This week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration arguing that the FAA was obliged to establish privacy rules for commercial drones and that it had failed to do so.

The privacy implications of drones have been discussed in several congressional hearings over the past two years, yielding these published hearing volumes:

U.S. Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Integration, Oversight, and Competitiveness, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, December 10, 2014

Eyes in the Sky: The Domestic Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems, House Judiciary Committee, May 17, 2013

The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations, Senate Judiciary Committee, March 20, 2013

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Other new or updated CRS reports that Congress has withheld from online public distribution include the following.

Cyberwarfare and Cyberterrorism: In Brief, March 27, 2015

The United Kingdom: Background and Relations with the United States, March 27, 2015

Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention, March 26, 2015

Peace Talks in Colombia, March 31, 2015

Membership of the 114th Congress: A Profile, March 31, 2015

Supervised Release (Parole): An Overview of Federal Law, March 5, 2015

 

Drones in Fact and Fiction

The emergence of unmanned aerial systems, or drones, as an instrument of war is often referred to as a “revolutionary” development in military technology. Thus, a new history of the subject is entitled “Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution” by Richard Whittle (Henry Holt, 2014).

But if it is a revolution, it is more like a turning of a wheel that will continue to revolve rather than the permanent transformation of all that has come before it. Armed drones represent an innovative response to a particular threat, but they are themselves bound to inspire other innovations and reactions from adversaries.

The development of drones as an ongoing process of adaption and response is the animating idea behind “Sting of the Drone,” a thriller by former National Security Council official Richard A. Clarke (who was a leading advocate for arming drones in the Clinton and Bush Administrations).

“This is not a static environment,” says a character in the novel named Dugout. “It’s more like classic two-player game theory. We each learn about the other’s behavior and adjust.”

In the novel, the terrorist targets of U.S. drone attacks adjust by deciding to attack the individual drone operators, who believe — mistakenly, as it turns out — that they are far removed from the battlefield.

One of the least believable features of Clarke’s novel, which is perfectly readable by the standards of airport fiction, is the character of Dugout, a super-skilled hacker and what-not who can accomplish technological feats that are beyond the imagination of his hidebound, boringly conventional colleagues.

So it comes as a surprise to read in Richard Whittle’s history that there was in fact at least one such real-life character associated with the weaponization of U.S. drones, who is identified only as “Werner” (“not because he is a covert operative, for he never was, but because he prefers to remain anonymous”). Werner, an imagery scientist and all-purpose technologist, was able to swiftly conceive and implement solutions to problems that left others completely stumped.

The Whittle history is an impressive tale of aeronautical innovation, led in its early years by Israeli expatriate Abraham Karem, that would encounter technological obstacles, bureaucratic resistance, and policy barriers. The ensuing struggles are rendered more lively and interesting by the author than might have been expected. Is an armed drone equivalent to a ground-launched cruise missile barred by the INF Treaty? Is targeted killing precluded by the ban on assassination? Under what conditions can or should a drone’s weapons be fired by the CIA?

Eventually, as Whittle recounts, all of these obstacles were overcome, at least for the moment. (In an echo of the last issue, a bill was introduced in the House just last week by Rep. Michael C. Burgess [R-TX] “to prohibit the Central Intelligence Agency from using an unmanned aerial vehicle to carry out a weapons strike or other deliberately lethal action.”)

One thing that “the drone revolution” did not do was to establish a pause in the continuing process of technological adaptation and the development of countermeasures.

To the contrary, the U.S. Army recently developed a mobile High Energy Laser that it can use against an adversary’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), and told Congress it will demonstrate a Counter-UAS capability in 2017.

At a March 2014 hearing, the U.S. Navy noted that it is developing its own Laser Weapon System to defeat drones.

“We feel energy weapons, specifically directed energy weapons, offer the Navy and the Marine Corps game-changing capabilities in speed-of-light engagement, deep magazines, multi-mission functionality, and affordable solutions.”

“They are capable in defeating adversarial threats, including fast boats, UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and other low-cost, widely available weapons.”

UAVs: An (unexploited) Seller’s Market

Today, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or “drones”), are an ever-present entity in both political discourse and the skies above countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Unmanned aerial vehicles can be used for a wide variety of missions. While intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and target acquisition are missions that frequently fall under the purview of basic UAVs, more advanced drones can be used for specialized tasks such as laser targeting, cargo transportation, and precision strike missions. Over 50 countries possess the ability to produce their own UAVs, and those that cannot do so are able to receive UAVs from exporters around the world.1)Drone Wars UK. “Mapping Drone Proliferation: UAVs in 76 Countries.” Global Research. Centre for Research on Globalization, 18 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 June 2014. The most valued UAVs in the export market are those capable of long range flight or armed operations, as these platforms are significantly more difficult for many countries to independently produce. The United States holds the technological edge in UAV production, but Israel is the world’s leading exporter of UAV systems. Systems such as Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron UAV have been sent to countries such as Indonesia, Germany, and India.2)Sherwood, Harriet. “Israel Is World’s Largest Drone Exporter.”Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 20 May 2013. Web. 27 June 2014. The only indigenously produced British drone, the Watchkeeper WK450, is a variant of the Israeli Hermes 450, a medium-size UAV manufactured by Haifa’s Elbit Systems Ltd.3)Defense Industry Daily Staff. “The UKs Watchkeeper ISTAR UAV.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 05 May 2014. Web. 27 June 2014. Between 2006 and 2013 UAV exports from Israel totaled $4.6 billion.4)Sherwood, Harriet. “Israel Is World’s Largest Drone Exporter.”Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 20 May 2013. Web. 27 June 2014.

It may seem strange that the United States is not the world’s largest exporter of UAVs. After all, the U.S. holds the unequivocal edge in UAV technological development. No other UAV can hold an offensive payload within 1,500 pounds of the nearly two tons carried by the American MQ-9 Reaper, an aircraft whose upgrade the General Atomics Avenger, has already been tested in Afghanistan.5)”MQ-9 Reaper.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 18 Aug. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014. 6)”New Predator C “Avenger” Drone Operationally Ready after Testing.” Global Aviation Report. Global Aviation Report, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 June 2014. UAVs such as the Avenger or the Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel (an advanced reconnaissance drone), are designed with stealth in mind, and no other country has been confirmed to have developed and put into service an independently-designed UAV with stealth capabilities.

It is understandable that the United States does not wish to export the Avenger or the Sentinel, two of its most cutting-edge systems, to foreign countries. The secrets of such technological advancements may have no dollar equivalent. Yet the United States has developed many UAVs such as the MQ-1 Predator or the RQ-7B Shadow that while advanced, do not represent the absolute cutting edge in UAV technology. Historically, the United States has had few quandaries with exporting other advanced weapons systems to countries around the world: the M1 Abrams tank has been exported by the hundreds to countries around the world, as has the F-16 Fighting Falcon jet or the Apache AH-64 attack helicopter. All of the vehicles were exported in what was at the time the most advanced version of the product.7)Defense Industry Daily Staff. “2006 Saudi Shopping Spree: $2.9B to Upgrade Their M1 Tank Fleet.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 July 2014. 8)Defense Industry Daily Staff. “Top Falcons: The UAEs F-16 Block 60/61 Fighters.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014. 9)Cole, J. M. “Taiwan Showcases AH-64E Apache Guardian Helicopters.” The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 14 Dec. 2013. Web. 22 July 2014. What is it about UAVs that leads to the United States’ hesitancy to fully invest in the export field?

The answer is hard to define, and impossible to pin on only one factor. A major factor slowing down UAV exports is the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a set of federal regulations that require Department of State authorization in order to allow domestic firms to export information or material with military applications, specifically those on the United States Munitions List.10)”ECFR — Code of Federal Regulations.” Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Government Printing Office, n.d. Web. 27 June 2014. Yet this is an obstacle faced by many U.S. manufacturers, whether they wish to export tanks, jet fighters, helicopters, or nuclear weapons. Although the nuclear weapon exportation field is admittedly a small one, the ITAR has still allowed for robust exportation of the aforementioned Abrams, Fighting Falcons, and Apaches. Instead, the United States is imposing constraints on itself and other suppliers through a multilateral mechanism.

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a partnership between the United States and 33 other countries that aims to prevent the reckless proliferation of WMD delivery systems by attempting to limit the transfer of “missile equipment, material, and related technologies” used to deliver weapons of mass destruction. This is achieved by member states establishing license authorization requirements for trade of MTCR-designated goods.11)”Missile Technology Control Regime.” Missile Technology Control Regime. Government of Canada, n.d. Web. 27 June 2014.The MTCR attempts to limit the export of a broad range of goods beyond completed missile systems: these include propellant systems and turboprop engines usable in ICBMs to both short and long-range UAV systems.

While manned aircraft are specifically mentioned as not covered under the MTCR, the text of the agreement does specifically mention UAVs as an entity to be regulated by the Regime. As far back as 1987, (the year the MTCR was established), UAVs were seen by the international community as a potent delivery method for weapons of mass destruction, despite the fact that intercontinental ballistic missiles dominated the news of the day. The end of the Cold War brought with it a reduced threat of global nuclear war. Yet the rise of global terrorism means the MTCR will still be relevant in the years to come as a safeguard against weapons proliferation among non-state actors. Representatives from member countries convene at an annual plenary meeting in an attempt to ensure MTCR regulations remain effective and feasible.

The MTCR separates WMD delivery systems into “Category I” and “Category II” items. Category I items are systems capable of carrying a payload of at least 500 kg to a distance of at least 300 km (roughly 1,100 lbs. to a distance of 186 miles). Category II items include systems with a range of 300 km (but a sub-500 kg payload) and other dual-use, “missile-related,” components. These items are subject to less scrutiny under MTCR guidelines, although goods judged by an exporting country to be intended for WMD delivery are subject to a “strong presumption of (license) denial.”12)Ibid.

American UAVs that would be classified as category I delivery systems include the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper.13)”MQ-1B Predator.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 20 July. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014. 14)”MQ-9 Reaper.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 18 Aug. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014. In the case of the Predator and the Reaper, the United States would be encouraged under MTCR guidelines to require General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (the producer of the above two systems), to attain a special export license (which is no easy task) in order to export its UAVs.

It is easy for analysts to point to the MTCR as the reason the United States has not entered the UAV export market with the force it is capable of. However, the MTCR is not a treaty, and is not binding or enforceable. MTCR guidelines even allow for the exportation of category I items at the member states’ discretion, although it frowns upon the practice. The only thing “prohibited absolutely” under MTCR rules is the exportation of “production facilities” for category I goods, defined as the equipment and software designed to be integrated into installations for product development or production.15)MTCR. “Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Annex Handbook – 2010.” (n.d.): n. pag. MTCR English. Missile Technology Control Regime, 2010. Web.  22 July 2014.

Under the MTCR, the United States would be able to export its UAVs without violating its Regime obligations, provided it does not export the aforementioned production facilities for said drones. The U.S. could even increase UAV exports without worrying that such exports make it significantly easier for another country or non-state actor to deploy a WMD. While they could theoretically be used to deliver a WMD, UAVs (even those that fall into the MTCR’s category I), are not the optimal delivery method for the utilization of such weapons. They are much slower than jets or missiles, and while their payloads can be impressive, they pale in comparison to those of dedicated bombers, which have proven stealth abilities. A UAV’s strength lies in the unique ability to conduct surgical strikes and reconnaissance while guaranteeing the safety of its operator.

Why does the United States hesitate to export UAVs on the scale they export other types of military equipment? It is possible that the answer in large part reflects the existence of a belief in the United States that UAVs represent the latest development in military technology, a feat of military engineering that has the potential to give the United States an ever-increasing ability to discretely gather intelligence and attack high-value targets.  Given its advanced nature, it would be unwise and perhaps even dangerous to share such technology with other nations. Yet, if the United States continues to be hesitant in selling UAVs to foreign countries, what will these other countries choose to do? They will not simply decide to continue operating a military with limited or outdated UAVs; they will get their UAVs from other countries, which would be an economic, political, and military setback for the United States.

During the Cold War, it was routine for a country’s military to be built around Soviet or American weapons and vehicles. Through the selling of arms and equipment, the 20th century superpowers managed to influence the policy of allied countries looking for foreign and domestic security in an unstable world. Over two decades after the end of the Cold War, the same situation holds true. The UAV may be able to perform a similar role to that of the Kalashnikov, a tool that could be used to empower nations while keeping them drawn to an even more powerful patron.

What if potential customers choose to take their business to countries whose worldviews are less in line with those of the United States, such as China or Russia? These two countries have UAV and UCAV development programs of their own and both are eager to expand their influence into areas such as Africa and Central Asia. If the United States finds itself unwilling to keep up with the trends of the defense export market, it could find itself with shrinking influence in geopolitical regions key to its interests. Of course, there are other factors besides arms sales that draw countries together. Common cultural bonds, economic aid, and similar geopolitical interests can naturally bring countries together. Yet it would be foolish to ignore military dependency as a valuable tool in the struggle to win international allies. The ability of military sales to build relationships is hard to deny; India is the largest importer of Israeli military goods, and this is undoubtedly a foundation of the international partnership between the two nations.16)Riedel, Bruce. “Israel & India: New Allies.” The Brookings Institution. The Brookings Institution, 21 Mar. 2008. Web. 22 July 2014.

Of course, many countries could choose to simply develop their own UAVs. A platform that can ably perform the missions of ISR and target acquisition is not extraordinarily hard to develop; the British military was operating the remote-controlled, reusable Queen Bee UAV as early as the 1930’s. Despite its early development date the Queen Bee would prove reliable enough to serve with the Royal Navy until 1947, long after further developments in UAVs had been made.17)Krock, Lexi. “1930s – DH.82B Queen Bee (UK).” NOVA. PBS, Nov. 2002. Web. 15 July 2014. It is significantly more difficult to design a UAV that can accurately deliver a heavy offensive payload while maintaining the ability to travel long distances with reasonable speed. Due to this challenge, many countries will choose to import rather than develop UAVs.

While there would certainly be advantages to the United States increasing its activity in the UAV export market, there could be significant drawbacks as well. Currently, UAVs operate with a quasi-legality and de facto acceptance around the world. The United States executes strike missions in countries like Pakistan that would be politically infeasible with manned aircraft. After an almost six-month hiatus, drone strikes are once again occurring in Pakistan, a country that publically claims such strikes violate its sovereignty.18)Khan, Ismail, and Declan Walsh. “Drones Kill 5 as Pakistan and U.S. Target Tribal Belt.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 June 2014. Web. 27 June 2014. Should multiple countries gain access to Predator or Reaper drones, a similar situation of frequent strikes may well be seen on a global scale. This could prove a serious threat to global international relations and the security of internationally recognized borders.

The United States faces a decision of great importance. Should it export its advanced UAVs in greater numbers, earning tremendous amounts of funds while expanding its sphere of influence? Or, should it operate on the side of caution, weighing the benefits of influence versus the hazards of proliferating a weapon whose rules of use have not been properly defined?

The unfortunate truth is that, in the end, the technology behind advanced UAVs and UCAVs will be spread around the world. With the exception of the MTCR, there are no internationally-recognized bodies who name the limiting of military UAV exportation as a primary objective. If it is not spread by the United States, it will be spread by another country. The United States should take a lead in this market, securing its influence and building alliances around the world. Through this method, the United States could reap the valuable long-term rewards that come with UAV exportation.

Michael Bodner is a Legislative Fellow with the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center in Washington, D.C. Mr. Bodner is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where he majored in International Studies with a concentration in Global Security and Counterterrorism. He has also attended Freie Universität in Berlin, where he studied the European role in international security.  His past work with FAS includes research and writing about chemical weapons use in the Syrian Civil War, international biosecurity, and the enforcement of sanctions against Iran. Special research interests include the Arab-Israeli conflict and the international proliferation of surface-to-air missiles.

 

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. Drone Wars UK. “Mapping Drone Proliferation: UAVs in 76 Countries.” Global Research. Centre for Research on Globalization, 18 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 June 2014.
2. Sherwood, Harriet. “Israel Is World’s Largest Drone Exporter.”Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 20 May 2013. Web. 27 June 2014.
3. Defense Industry Daily Staff. “The UKs Watchkeeper ISTAR UAV.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 05 May 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.
4. Sherwood, Harriet. “Israel Is World’s Largest Drone Exporter.”Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 20 May 2013. Web. 27 June 2014.
5. ”MQ-9 Reaper.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 18 Aug. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014.
6. ”New Predator C “Avenger” Drone Operationally Ready after Testing.” Global Aviation Report. Global Aviation Report, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.
7. Defense Industry Daily Staff. “2006 Saudi Shopping Spree: $2.9B to Upgrade Their M1 Tank Fleet.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 July 2014.
8. Defense Industry Daily Staff. “Top Falcons: The UAEs F-16 Block 60/61 Fighters.” Defense Industry Daily RSS News. Defense Industry Daily, 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.
9. Cole, J. M. “Taiwan Showcases AH-64E Apache Guardian Helicopters.” The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 14 Dec. 2013. Web. 22 July 2014.
10. ”ECFR — Code of Federal Regulations.” Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Government Printing Office, n.d. Web. 27 June 2014.
11. ”Missile Technology Control Regime.” Missile Technology Control Regime. Government of Canada, n.d. Web. 27 June 2014.
12. Ibid.
13. ”MQ-1B Predator.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 20 July. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014.
14. ”MQ-9 Reaper.” U.S. Air Force. United States Department of Defense, 18 Aug. 2010. Web. 27 June 2014.
15. MTCR. “Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Annex Handbook – 2010.” (n.d.): n. pag. MTCR English. Missile Technology Control Regime, 2010. Web.  22 July 2014.
16. Riedel, Bruce. “Israel & India: New Allies.” The Brookings Institution. The Brookings Institution, 21 Mar. 2008. Web. 22 July 2014.
17. Krock, Lexi. “1930s – DH.82B Queen Bee (UK).” NOVA. PBS, Nov. 2002. Web. 15 July 2014.
18. Khan, Ismail, and Declan Walsh. “Drones Kill 5 as Pakistan and U.S. Target Tribal Belt.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 June 2014. Web. 27 June 2014.