The Obama administration will permit the widespread export of armed drones for the first time, a step toward providing allied nations with weapons that have become a cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy but whose remotely controlled power to kill is intensely controversial.
The new policy, announced Tuesday after a long internal review, is a significant step for U.S. arms policy as allied nations from Italy to Turkey to the Persian Gulf region clamor for the aircraft. It also is a nod to U.S. defense firms scrambling to secure a greater share of a growing global drone market.
But in a reflection of the sensitivity surrounding sales of the lethal technology to allied countries, some of which have troubling records on human rights and political freedoms, the new policy lays out principles that foreign governments must embrace to receive the aircraft.
“The technology is here to stay,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the regulations. “It’s to our benefit to have certain allies and partners equipped appropriately.”