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.

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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.

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