The Obama administration unveiled a new policy Tuesday allowing foreign allies to buy military drones as part of its global counterterrorism fight.
The State Department said that although the new export policy would facilitate sales of armed drones, any sales would be made through the government-to-government foreign military sales program.
Each country eager to buy U.S. drone technology would also be required to agree to “end-use monitoring" and other security conditions. Recipient countries would be required to sign a pledge that the drones would not be used for unlawful surveillance or force against domestic populations and would be used only in internationally sanctioned military operations, such as self-defense.
Officials did not identify any countries that could be in line for drone exports.
The administration’s policy is sure to draw scrutiny from critics who worry about the technology falling into terrorists' hands or being used by repressive governments.
The United States has used drone campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere to target terrorist leaders.
Drones have become one of the most critical tools on the battlefield, providing troops with eyes in the sky and a weapons platform that can fly around the clock over hot spots and fire missiles without putting a pilot at risk.
Over the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders' requests for drones skyrocketed and the Pentagon has struggled to keep up with the demand.
Defense companies have repeatedly complained that export restrictions are outdated and have caused the U.S. to lose potential customers to nations that have fewer restrictions on their arms industries.