Defense News reported on April 18, 2017 that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing the Trump Administration to approve sales of armed unmanned aerial systems (UAVs) to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
The group of 20 Republicans and two Democrats, led by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), wrote a letter urging the Trump Administration to change the policy put in place by the Obama Administration of banning the sale of armed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to the two Middle Eastern countries. The two Democrats on the letter are Representatives Susan Davis (D-CA) and Scott Peters (D-CA).
Representative Hunter, whose district includes MQ-9 manufacturer General Atomics, stated that sales to the countries “would preserve thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs,” while bringing over $1 billion into the U.S. economy.
Representative Hunter added that these countries are turning to other suppliers, such as China, to procure armed UAVs, which, according to the lawmaker, could align them in some respects to Chinese policy. He asked, “Why shouldn’t they be more aligned with the U.S. and U.S. foreign policy in the fight against ISIS? They are getting it on, why not help them?”
Both countries are partners in the U.S. fight against the Islamic State, often referred to by an acronym for its previous name, ISIS.
Representative Hunter noted that, despite proposed budget changes to remove subsidies for foreign allies to purchase U.S. military goods, he would still seek to assist key allies in procurement. Defense News quoted him as saying, “Congress is not going to pass a budget that cuts our allies off at the knees — and I count Jordan, Egypt and the UAE as allies against ISIS.”
The UAE has purchased RQ-1E Predator XP drones, all of which were confirmed delivered earlier this year. The sale was concluded during the Obama Administration and these drones are unarmed. In light of the ban on armed drone sales, the UAE and Jordan have procured armed drones from Chinese firms. Emirati firms, meanwhile, have developed their own locally-produced combat UAVs.
Lawmakers are optimistic that the Trump Administration will roll back restrictions placed by the previous Administration. Recently, the U.S. State Department began informally notifying lawmakers that it had approved a sale of F-16s to Bahrain, without human rights preconditions set by the Obama Administration.
The State Department is similarly set to move forward with approval for a sale of Super Tucanos to Nigeria, which is currently fighting a local affiliate of the Islamic State, Boko Haram. Though the Obama Administration had sought to approve that sale as well, the approval was delayed, over concerns about human rights in Nigeria.
U.S. Congressmen have seen the potential sales as a boost for getting other stymied sales secured. Lawmakers view these deals as a way to support the U.S. defense industry and develop stronger security relations with allied countries. Rights groups often criticize the arms sales over concern that they help perpetuate violations in war zones and counterinsurgency operations.
In 2015, the Obama Administration established a firm policy on the export of armed UAVs, assessing that they would be done on a case-by-case basis, “with consideration of human rights, regional power balance, and other factors,” according to Reuters.