WASHINGTON — As a top Jordanian official leaves after a visit to Washington, Rep. Duncan Hunter is renewing his call for the Obama administration to allow sales of unmanned systems to the regional Middle Eastern ally.
The California Republican, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he believes the US needs to be more open to selling Jordan either the MQ-9 Reaper or MQ-Predator XP unmanned systems — preferably both — in order to help in the fight against the Islamic State group, better known as ISIS or ISIL.
"The people that are out there prosecuting the war, where its literally on their doorstep and there is an existential threat to them, why not enable our allies?," Hunter said to Defense News on Oct. 27. "If this is a whole-of-government approach and the goal is, as the pPresident has said, to not lead from the front, to lead from behind, why not [allow these sales?]?"
Opening the pipeline for unmanned systems to Jordan has become a signature cause for Hunter, who represents parts of San Diego, California — the home of General Atomics, the maker of the Reaper and Predator designs.
He wrote letters in both March and May to President Barack Obama asking for sales to be opened up, but was rejected in an August letter from the White House citing, in part, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as a reason why the drones could not be sold to Jordan.
The MTCR was established in 1987 to prevent the spread of unmanned systems that could carry nuclear weapons. Anything carrying a payload of 500 kilograms that could travel more than 300 kilometers is considered a "category 1" item under the regime, which and cannot be sold abroad.
The US has said that drone technology falls under the MTCR and hence limits export opportunity. Reforms to the US export process, launched in February, have eased the way for unmanned system exports, but it can still be a limiting factor.
Experts have argued the restrictions are hurting both the US drone industry and American foreign policy that would benefit by setting behavioral norms for the use of unmanned systems — a chance that disappears if countries turn to other exporters like China or Israel.
Those argument are strong in Hunter's mind. He also said he believes a potential workaround exists: have the systems be operated by US personnel but leased to the Jordanians.
"Why shouldn't we take the lead and have them use it in an American product, with American contractors on the ground, so we know what's happening, we keep it safe, and we make sure they aren't doing anything untoward on it," he asked rhetorically said. "Have them use an American product and gain further support with the Jordanians."
The next step in this fight is scheduled to come Monday.
In last year's National Defense Authorization Act, Hunter put in language requiring the Department of Defense to brief the HASC no later than Sept.ember 15, 2015, on pending requests for unmanned systems from allies supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. Due to the budget situation, that briefing was pushed back, but is now scheduled to occur on for Nov. 2.
This week, as Jordanian Prince Faisal bin Hussein visited DC Washington, Defense News obtained a memo from the Obama administration outlining its support for Jordan. The memo appeared to be a preemptive strike against calls that the US was not doing enough in Jordan, and included a detailed list of equipment that has been transferred to Jordan since the start of the year.
Despite $385 million in foreign military financing given byfrom the administration, Hunter said he believes more still should be done.
"That's like saying in WW2, 'Hey, Britain, we're giving you ammo and food but we're not going to give you tanks or weapons because we've already given enough,'" Hunter said. "Either the administration's goal is to eradicate ISIS and the Islamic radical threat in the Middle East and we use our allies to do so, or they're going to half-ass it, which is what they've been doing."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.