WASHINGTON: Congress needs to take a larger role in deciding how to get unmanned technologies into the hands of American allies while keeping them out of hands of U.S. adversaries, according to a new congressional study.
The use of unmanned systems on the modern-day battlefield has increased significantly over the past decade. Unmanned aircraft have become the weapon of choice for U.S. military and intelligence agencies in counterterrorism missions across the globe. So far, American defense firms have been the biggest beneficiaries of this boom in the drone market. But as the rest of the industrialized world begins to catch up in unmanned technology, there are concerns the U.S. could fall to second place — or further — to a number of near-peer countries. “Much new business is likely to be generated in the [unmanned systems] market, and if U.S. companies fail to capture this market share, European, Russian, Israeli, Chinese, or South African companies will,” analysts from the Congressional Research Service claim in a Jan. 3 report. Competition for unmanned technologies will only get more intense as U.S. firms begin to look to overseas markets to bolster their bottom lines.
To that end, Congress must take steps to ensure U.S. industries keep their spot as top dog in the unmanned technology field, the report claims. One way to do that is to exert more control over the ongoing export reform effort being spearheaded by the White House. “As part of its defense and foreign policy oversight, Congress may examine whether a balance must be struck between supporting legitimate U.S. exports and curbing the spread of [unmanned aerial] technologies to dangerous groups or countries,” CRS analysts write. The report does not go into detail as to what kinds of efforts lawmakers should take to assist in export policy oversight.
U.S defense firms have blamed the Pentagon and State Department’s stringent rules over international sales of unmanned systems for America’s potential decline in the drone market. Those rules have severely limited industry’s ability to pass on key unmanned technology to America’s closest allies. Denying these weapons to partner nations guarantees American forces will shoulder the brunt of the next global conflict, since our allies simply won’t have the weapons to carry out the fight, defense analyst and former Pentagon international programs official Frank Cevasco told Breaking Defense last month. The Obama administration is already taking action to make sure that does not happen.
In August, the White House unveiled a new export reform strategy that is designed to double military and commercial exports over the next five years. The strategy includes reducing the list of what sensitive military hardware cannot be sent overseas. The plan will also outline new parameters for information technology systems. Finally, all military and commercial exports will be overseen by a single licensing agency and export enforcement coordination center, according to the White House.