ABU DHABI — As one U.S. official at Abu Dhabi's international defense expo, IDEX, put it this week, "China has been selling the hell out of its drones" to Gulf militaries like those of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.
The U.S., while a top security partner to these states, currently does not supply them with its armed drone technology due to strict export regulations. But in the face of record Middle East defense spending and encroaching foreign competition, it's under renewed pressure to do just that.
Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, director of the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), emphasized changes underway to the Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy, which has thus far prevented the sale of armed drones to Washington's Arab allies.
"As an element of the changes to the CAT policy, we've reviewed and are in the process of implementing changes to our policy with respect to unmanned aerial systems," Hooper told media at the conference Sunday.
"We want to make many of our unmanned aerial systems available to our partners. Many of them have been asking for some time, we're going to move forward as quickly as possible."
Those systems that Gulf allies have wanted include the lethal MQ-9 Reaper, produced by General Atomics, a hunter-killer drone that can carry up to four hellfire missiles as well as laser-guided bombs and joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs). What's been stopping the sales include concerns over proliferation, or risks that it could end up in the wrong hands.