The United States dropped some restrictions Thursday on sales of its advanced drones in order to reinforce the armies of its allies and compete with China in the world arms market. President Donald Trump's White House announced an update to its policy on arms transfers to promote U.S. exports and jobs, and specifically to loosen the rules on selling unmanned warplanes. Trump's chief trade advisor, Peter Navarro, said the move was designed to reverse former president Barack Obama's "myopic" decision to limit even U.S. allies' access to drone technology. Allowing U.S. arms firms to directly market drones instead of forcing foreign customers to apply to the government would, he said, allow them to compete against sales of Chinese "knock-offs."
"The administration's UAS export policy will level the playing field by enabling U.S. firms to increase their direct sales to authorized allies and partners," he said, referring to "Unmanned Aerial Systems." Navarro said U.S. weapons and aerospace exports are worth a trillion dollars a year, support 2.5 million well-paid jobs and form a key plank of Trump's ambition to wipe out America's trade deficit. But he said the market for drones alone could grow to $50 billion in a decade and that officials are "seeing Chinese replicas of American UAS technology deployed on the runways in the Middle East."
As an example, he cited China's Wing Loong 2 medium-altitude, long-endurance drone. This reconnaissance and missile platform was on display to potential clients at the 2017 Paris Air Show but is, he said, "a clear knock-off" of U.S. firm General Atomics' MQ-9 Reaper. The U.S. pioneered the use of unmanned aircraft, some of them flown by pilots half-a-world away through satellite links to a ground station, for spotting missions and missile strikes. Critics of their deployment say that, because they can be used without putting American pilots in harm's way, they encourage commanders and presidents to resort more easily to lethal force. Despite the accuracy of missiles guided by drone-mounted lasers, many hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians have been killed in U.S. strikes in South Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.