WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department’s updated drone export policy could be out as quickly as the next month, a top department official said Friday.
Asked about the timetable for the new guidance on how unmanned systems are sold abroad, Michael Miller, acting deputy assistant secretary with the bureau of political military affairs, said: “Could be a week, could be a month.”
Miller acknowledged he had expected the new drone policy “was going to be sooner,” but pledged it would likely be “soon” that the unclassified version of the guidance would be released.
“I’m not being cagey for the sake of it — I honestly don’t know. But we have been working on something to amend the current policy,” he told Defense News after an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t have a date.”
Defense News first reported in August that the Trump administration was taking a look at rules governing unmanned system exports, put in place in 2015, with an eye on making it easier to sell the systems to partners abroad. At the time, sources believed changes could come as early as September.
Producers of unmanned systems in the U.S. have argued for years that they are handicapped on the global marketplace by restrictions that other drone exporters, most notably China and Israel, are not, and the Trump administration has made increased weapon sales abroad part of its plan for economic growth.
Shifting that 2015 guidance to make it easier for industry to sell abroad is a relatively easy change, but another, larger change is also being sought by the Trump administration. In December, Defense News broke that the administration was also seeking a change for the Missile Technology Control Regime, an agreement among 35 nations that governs the export of missiles and unmanned systems.
Under the terms of the MTCR, any “category-1” system capable of carrying 500-kilogram payloads for more than 300 kilometers is subject to a “strong presumption of denial.” The administration is seeking to change rules so that an air vehicle that flies at a speed of less than 650 kph would drop to “category-2” and thus be subject to approval on a case-by-case basis.
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.