Why is Obama Letting China Beat the US at Global Drone Sales?

A MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron remains ready for its next mission at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

U.S. Air Force photo by/Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

AA Font size + Print

A MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron remains ready for its next mission at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

Blocking Jordan’s purchase of Reaper UAVs is just one example of unwise reticence to sell more arms abroad.

If American allies are given a choice when they purchase military weapons, it’s a sure bet that they’ll look to buy American every time. The U.S. military has the most technologically advanced fighting force in the world and it’s no wonder so many of our global partners clamor for the cutting-edge weaponry that sets our defense forces apart.

This is the case now, but the technology gap is closing in some areas. At a certain point, the Obama administration’s persistent refusals and denials to transfer U.S. weaponry abroad will lead to an even greater expansion of foreign military sales, especially from the Chinese. This is apparent already in the area of unmanned aerial systems, or drones. While the U.S. maintains a slight advantage in drone capability and production, the failure of the State Department to do business on this front has created a new market for China. And China is seizing the opportunity.

An obvious example involves equipment requests from Jordan, which is on the front line in the war against the Islamic State, or ISIS. In fact, Jordan’s interests in destroying ISIS coincide with our own. The asset most sought by the Jordanians, as shown by their direct requests, is the Reaper drone. With the Reaper’s range and firepower, Jordan would be able to more effectively strike Islamic State fighters deeper in enemy territory and with far less risk to its personnel. Jordan could better control its borders and support additional combat needs as they arise.

Clearly, Reaper transfers to Jordan would constitute a win-win: Jordan acquires the resources and capability it needs to fight an enemy on its doorstep, while the U.S., in supporting a critical ally, would continue taking the fight to ISIS, as well as and secure market ownership and access — which also happen to be of deep interest to China and its drone industry.

This wasn’t near enough for the State Department. Jordan’s requests for Reaper were outright denied. So what did the Jordanians do? They turned to China. They turned to Israel.

Now the Chinese are arranging the sale of their drone, the Caihong 5, a Reaper equivalent that would otherwise fall under the same constraints imposed on U.S. drones. Reportedly, Israel is also providing two of its Heron drones. When asked about the rationale for denying Jordan’s request, the State Department stated very simply that loss of market share is no concern. Complete nonsense.

Even the head of Air Force acquisition agreed. On the heels of the Dubai Air Show, Bill LaPlante said the U.S. should act more quickly to allow allies to buy American weaponry, further citing the market threat posed by the Chinese. He cited drones specifically, saying, “Guess who’s [in Dubai] selling stuff? I don’t know. China?” … “Our partners are saying: even if [a Chinese weapon] doesn’t work, I can buy theirs, even if it doesn’t work well and works about a third of the time. It’s still worth it. Those guys are at war and it’s existential for them.”

My point exactly.

The State Department is unlikely to change its position on Jordan’s drones request, even though it should. The fact that the U.S. is losing this opportunity, as well as the security, market share and economic benefits that come with it, is indicative of a bureaucracy that is constantly contradicting itself and impeding results.

It’s expected that China will continue expanding its sphere of influence, to include the sale of its military equipment. Of course, with respect to American resources, there is a time to sell and a time not to sell, and a lot also depends on the technology in question. But for the State Department to deny Jordan on the grounds it has, a door has been open to China that’s sure to be exploited without reservation.

Let this be a wakeup call of sorts. And if Jordan’s request is not fulfilled soon—or at least the right guarantees are made—then we’ll only have ourselves to blame for China’s newest foothold in a region that is so deeply intertwined with U.S. national security.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.