The planned drone sale to the UAE could also be the first transfer of U.S.-made armed unmanned aircraft since the Trump administration revised its policy of limiting such sales to only the closest and most trusted allies. Reports that the United States had reinterpreted the multinational Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) first appeared in June this year and, at the time, the UAE was mentioned among the potential beneficiaries.
The UAE’s possible MQ-9B deal could still run into official opposition, however. Like the previously announced F-35 package, for the sale of the drones to proceed, the U.S. Congress would have to agree that it adheres to legislation that secures Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the region. You can read more about the potential ramifications of this policy here.
Furthermore, attempts could be made to block the sale by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees, some members of which have in the past been critical of the UAE’s role in the ongoing civil war in Yemen. Reuters suggests that the U.S. State Department may be holding off on formally notifying Congress of the sale until it has briefed these committees.
Of course, a potential drone sale to the UAE also has to be seen through the prism of the ongoing election issue in the United States, where, as of November 6, a winner was still to be declared. It remains to be seen if a Biden administration will continue with the Trump administration’s new interpretation of the MTCR guidelines. Moreover, a new administration may or may not try to continue the Trump administration’s overall push to increase U.S. arms sales abroad. The Biden camp has previously said it would have to review the sale of F-35s to the UAE, and the same may well apply to the planned drone sale, too.
Successive plans to sell the UAE F-35s, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, and now advanced armed UAVs indicate that the Trump Administration is still pushing to provide the Gulf state the cutting-edge weapons that it clearly desires. Whether the proposed deals pass their political hurdles remains to be seen, however.
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