Source: Press TV
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced his interest in exporting offensive US drones across the world, while expressing concern about Iran's defensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
An Iranian drone
Speaking before a Senate hearing on March 25,
Gates claimed that it was in the interests of the United States to export deadly
drones to what he termed "friendly" nations, despite limitations placed on such
exports by US international treaty obligations, reported Reuters.
"There are other countries that are very interested in this capability and frankly it is, in my view, in our interest to see what we can do to accommodate them," Gates said.
UAVs are used mostly for surveillance purposes. However, in recent years, the US military has fielded a range of armed UAVs - or drones - which can attack designated targets with guided missiles, typically Hellfire.
One of these - the Predator - has been used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as other areas, for assassinations of those the US describes as hostile elements. The Predators are fairly slow and low flying aircraft which can be used only against targets that lack any anti-aircraft protection. Although they are based near the theatres of operations, the Predators are believed to be controlled by operatives based in CIA's headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Predators have been responsible for hundreds of deaths - both militants and civilians - in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas, since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The proliferation of elements of offensive UAV technology are restricted by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which is a treaty between at least 34 states intended to limit the exports of goods and technologies that are intended for missile delivery systems.
The US is a party to this treaty. However, now the US arms industry wants this treaty to be modified or put aside so that they can export their armed drones, which are seen to have been 'battle proven' against the Iraqi and Afghan people.
"With respect to export ... I think there are some specific cases where we have allies with whom we have formal treaty alliances who have expressed interest in these capabilities," Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"And we have told them that we are limited in what we can do by the MTCR, but I think it's something we need to pursue with them." He did not elaborate on how the US government planned to skirt its MTCR treaty obligations.
At the same time, Gates expressed his concern about Iranian UAVs. "Iran has UAVs and that is a concern because it is one of those areas where I suppose if they chose to, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, they could create difficulties for us," he said during his testimony.
However, there is nothing new about Iran's UAVs. Iran first developed and fielded UAVs in the 1980s during the Iraqi imposed war.
So far, they have been used in surveillance applications only, although recently plans have been announced for drones with attack capabilities too.
Gates did not name the countries to which the US should export its killer drones, but these are thought to include its largest weapons clients, Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf Arab states and Israel. The latter has used shorter range shoot-and-kill drones against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and would be interested in longer range models such as the Predator and Global Hawk that could reach parts of Iran.
Global Hawk's manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, has said that Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Britain, Spain and Canada have expressed interested in their product.
Pakistan has also requested to buy armed drones such as the Predator.
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