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US mulling sale of armed drones to allies

Dec 15, 2011 14:07 IST

#NewsTracker   #US allies   #US drones  

Washington: US is planning to sell its battle-proved armed drones to key allies, including India, but the move is being opposed by lawmakers who don't want the technology to be exported.

"The Pentagon wants more North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to have such pilotless aircraft to ease the burden on the US in Afghanistan and in future conflicts like the alliance's air campaign in Libya this year," Obama Administration officials were quoted by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) as saying.

A US Navy SEAL Team 18 technician works on a UAV before a demonstration of combat skills in Fort Pierce, Florida. Reuters Reuters

It is believed that India would be one of the potential target countries for the US to sell its drones. India has been purchasing drones from Israel for quite some time now, and has been developing its drone capabilities, but does not have armed drones like the Predators and Reapers used by US security agencies with devastating effect against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.

"The Pentagon's proposed sales have set off a behind-the-scenes debate between the administration and some members of Congress over whether the US should speed the spread of a technology that will allow other countries to carry out military strikes by remote control," the report said.

Drones have been highly successful in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and also in countries like Yemen and Somalia. However, some lawmakers are resisting to such a move from the Administration. "There are some military technologies that I believe should not be shared with other countries, regardless of how close our partnership," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein.

"The United States should be trying to control the proliferation of certain weapons, and I would put armed UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) in that category," she told the daily.

According to WSJ, a proposal to provide Italy with weapons systems and arms for up to six unarmed Reaper drones it already owns has been presented informally to key lawmakers but has yet to be submitted to Congress for review.

The six-drone package was estimated to cost as much as $393 million. Pentagon also wants to sell two armed drones to Turkey and four surveillance drones, the daily said, but noted that this deal is unlikely to go further if the Italy deal is not
approved by the lawmakers.

US is the only nation to have armed drones deployed worldwide, with Israel a pioneer in the technology close to developing hunter-killer variant. Tel Aviv has also produced long-endurance fleet of drones that can stay afloat for nearly
a day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, the paper said.

US lawmakers are not averse to sharing the advanced technology with allies, but are concerned that know-how should not get into the hands of countries like Iran and China.

WSJ said China has been making efforts to develop UAVs since mid-1990s and its earlier versions were built by reverse-engineering and a Northrop drone obtained from Vietnam in the late 60s.

The paper said the US allies want to use the drones to hunt down suspected terrorists, much as the US does in hotspots around the world.

PTI

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