Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense has recently expressed his interest in exporting US offensive drones across the world.
But only to friendly countries, of course.
On March 25, 2010, Reuters reported that the US aerospace industry believed that US demand for drones would double in the next five years, after rising 600% since 2004. They also hoped for international demand.
Gates was speaking at a US Senate hearing. It wasn’t clear what countries he was thinking of, but the US appears to be losing the drones market to aggressive Israeli arms sellers who’ve sold or leased drones to dozens of countries, including many in NATO.
The US has only sold drones to two countries, Italy and Britain, and is limited by the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime, which has 34 signatories, including many of the NATO countries. The 34 member list, has many countries which have purchased or leased drones from Israel, which is not on the list.
Among the countries receiving drones however will be Pakistan, which will receive 12 RQ-7 Shadow surveillance UAVs as part of a billion dollar to Pakistan from the Coalition Support fund.
In January, President Asif Ali Zardari spoke to Gates about the issue of giving control of the drones to Pakistani forces. Zardari told Gates that the use of armed drones to in the frontier territories had led to anti-American anger. He stated “that people would be less critical if the drones were used by Pakistani troops.”
This appears to be a Pakistani request for the US to supply them with armed drones and the capacity to carry out assassination programmes on their own territory.
While Zardari made the request specifically with respect to fighting extremists, a Pakistan armed with missile carrying drones poses an obvious threat to India, which expressed its alarm.
India wants assurances that the drones aren’t ‘targeted’ at India.
Robert Gates has been one of the strongest advocates for the US drone assassination programme in northern Pakistan.
Gates has frequently expressed concern that drone technology would fall into the hands of enemies, without specifying who he might mean (Russia?, Iran?), but noting that:
“My worry would be capabilities like this getting into the hands of non-state actors who could use them for terrorist purposes.”
Gates seems oddly concerned that he might violate the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime. Most of the members of the regime have been acquiring drones with happy abandon, either by building them for themselves, or buying them elsewhere, principally from America’s chief ally, Israel. According to many the Israeli technology is leading edge. And Israeli companies have provided drones to many regimes with questionable intentions, most notable Georgia.