There's no question that military superiority in armed and unarmed drone capabilities will shape international security throughout the era of great power competition.
However, unnecessary Missile Technology Control Regime regulatory hurdles place significant burdens upon export of remotely piloted aircraft--also known as unmanned aerial vehicles--and their technology, limiting resources that would help the United States sustain its competitive advantage. Policymakers must examine export barriers and adjust policy to protect U.S. companies, capabilities, allies and partners.
The Missile Technology Control Regime is a multilateral, non-binding agreement to deny international transfer of ballistic and cruise missile technologies countries may use to deliver chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. It defines two categories of unmanned payload delivery systems. Category one regulates unmanned delivery platforms including ballistic and cruise missiles, space launch vehicles, target and reconnaissance drones and remotely piloted vehicles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload out to 300 kilometers.
Category two regulates items contributing specific functions to delivery platforms, such as navigation systems, flight control instruments, avionics, test facilities, software and other platform components. Under the guidelines, member states agree to an unconditional presumption restricting the transfer of category one items, regardless of the purpose of export.
One critical limitation of the regime is that emerging technologies have rendered categorization obsolete. It classifies UAVs as cruise missiles despite operational profiles more akin to manned aircraft. Additionally, it adds another level of oversight to the foreign military sales approval process. This precludes exports to many U.S. friends and allies and can prohibitively delay export of weapon systems--like the MQ-9 Reaper--to key NATO allies.
In the past, the United States has only successfully authorized the transfer of category one aircraft to Italy and the United Kingdom forcing the other 26 NATO nations to look elsewhere for these critical capabilities. And, one of the first place these countries look to is China. Beijing works hard to create an easily procured, attractive alternative to U.S. systems by marketing cheap versions of often pilfered technology unrestricted by Missile Technology Control Regime concerns.
China's gaming of the regime's requirements demonstrates the...