Committees on Arms Export ControlsWritten evidence from Drone Wars UK

Drone Proliferation: Two Areas of Concern

1. The proliferation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) commonly known as drones is a growing area of concern and deserves attention from the Committees. Here we highlight two particular areas that need further investigation: the growing pressure to “relax” international rules governing the export of UAVs and the use of British components within US drones carrying out attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Drones and the MTCR

2. The main international agreement controlling the proliferation of drones, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), is coming under increasing pressure from those who see it as a hindrance to the development of the UAV industry.

3. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a non-binding voluntary agreement to curb the spread of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, was established in 1987 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, but has since grown to a total of thirty-four countries.

4. The MTCR controls two categories of delivery systems and applicable technology. Category One systems are capable of delivering a 500 kilogram warhead further than 300 kilometres, while Category Two covers systems that carry a lighter warhead or have a range of less than 300km. Although all decisions are taken on a national basis, and there is no sanction by other countries if the MTCR is broken, there is a “strong presumption of denial” underpinning Category One systems—that is, an assumption that MTCR signatory states will not export such systems. Countries have greater discretion about exporting Category Two systems.

5. With the rapid development in the use of drones, the MTCR’s control over the export of drones is seen as an obstacle by the drone industry. Wes Bush, CEO of US drone manufacturer Northrop Grumman, is one senior military industry figures who has publicly spoken out against the MTCR saying that that controls “hurt industry” and the agreement “needs an overhaul.”1

6. One way that drone manufacturers have already begun to get around the MTCR controls is to make small changes to their drones to make sure they come under Category Two rather than Category One. In March 2011 the US government cleared an unarmed version of the Predator drone for export after changes were made so it would come under MTCR Category Two2, and then in May it was revealed that the Israeli manufactured Dominator 2 UAV had also been cleared for export after changes had been made to its basic design.3 While Israel is not officially an MTCR country it states that it abides by the MTCR controls.

7. Another suggestion for getting round the agreement made by a senior US figures is that the industry provides drone “services” to other nations rather than selling them the actual drones, a move which would bypass MTCR restrictions because the UAVs would remain under the selling countries control.4 While this may initially sound fanciful, it should be remembered that the UK’s Hermes 450 drones, currently being operated in Afghanistan are rented in a similar way from an Israel/UK joint venture company.

8. Finally, states themselves have been lobbying behind closed doors. The annual plenary meeting of the MTCR takes place behind closed doors with little or no information made publicly available. However in July 2012 it was revealed in an unclassified version of a February 2012 report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) that there had been six US-sponsored UAV-related proposals to amend the MTCR over the 2005–2011 period, five of which “would have resulted in moving some UAVs currently categorized under MTCR Category I to Category II” and thus making them more easier to export.5 The five proposals were rejected by other members of the MTCR.

9. With a growing number of countries eager to acquire UAV technology, the time for global controls to stop the spread of drones has never been more urgent or important. Far from relaxing the controls, they should be strengthened to include for example components, to which we now turn.

British components in US Drones

10. There is some evidence that two British companies are supplying components used in US systems to undertake controversial, not to say unlawful, drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

11. General Electric Intelligent Platforms (GEIP), based in Towcester near Northampton, a subsidiary of the US defence manufacturer General Electric, manufacturers electronic components which appear to be used in the Predator ground control station. It is not clear that these components are subject to export licensing controls or whether they are exported without licenses as commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products.

12. Secondly, Brighton-based company EDO-MBM, a subsidiary of US company ITT, has been granted at least one license to export the Zero Retention Force Arming Unit (ZRFAU) to a sister company in the United States.6 It is believed but not confirmed that the ZRFAU is incorporated into systems used to release weapons from the Predator UAV.

13. We call on the committee to fully investigate whether UK components are being exported and incorporated into US Unmanned Aerial Vehicles which are currently being used to launch attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

22 October 2012

1 Bill Sweetman, Missile Treaty A Drag On US UAVs, Aviation Week, 22 August 2011

2 Chris Pocock, Predator UAV Cleared for Wider Export, Aviation International News, 4 March 2011

3 Gary Mortimer, Aeronautics Dominator passes MTCR, SUAS News, 24 May 2011

4 Comments made by Dr Richard Speier, formerly of the office of the US Secretary of Defense, at IISS-US UAV Conference: The Future of Unmanned Air Power: Implications for Policy & Strategy (available at

5 Nonproliferation: Agencies Could improve Information Sharing and End-Use Monitoring on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Exports, United States Government General Accountability Office: GAO-12 536, July 2012. Available at

6 Freedom of Information Act 2000 (Section 50) Decision Notice FS5018083, 15th December 2008. Available at

Prepared 15th July 2013