“What we’re looking at is effectively jumping straight to the next generation,” said Martin Rowe-Wilcocks, BAE head of international business development for future combat air systems. “We’re able to look at those systems that are already in service and learn from them.”
Israel has long sold small unarmed drones to a range of countries, but other producers are also muscling in. Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported in April that Russia hoped to fly its first prototype domestically produced armed UAV as soon as 2014.
China has made it clear it is interested in building similar systems, and both countries are expected to have done what they can to persuade Tehran to share its captured Sentinel.
As demand but also international competition rises, some U.S. firms worry Washington’s attempts to slow the spread of UAV technology may leave it falling behind.
Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show several countries including United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia asking U.S. officials to buy armed UAVs but being rebuffed.
Washington says its commitments to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a non-binding international agreement designed to limit the spread of long-range precision weaponry, restrict drone export.
U.S. FIRMS DISADVANTAGED?
Industry leaders warn that could see the U.S. UAV sector going the way of its commercial satellite production, effectively strangled by export controls seen as effectively killing its dominance of the sector just as new rivals emerge.
“The unmanned area is growing by leaps and bounds,” says Marion Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association. “The Missile Technology Control Regime is something that really needs to be addressed because it’s disadvantaging U.S. industry.”