February 18, 2015 / 11:59 PM / 4 years ago

Arms makers cautiously welcome new U.S. export policy on drones

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. weapons makers on Wednesday cautiously welcomed a new U.S. export policy for unmanned planes, saying it could boost equipment sales while making it easier for the U.S. military to operate with allies in future conflicts.

An airplane flies over a drone during the Polar Bear Plunge on Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York January 1, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The U.S. government on Tuesday established a policy for sales of military and commercial drones, including armed ones, that maps out more clearly how it will judge possible exports, but maintain strict controls on sales.[ID: nL1N0VR1R1]

“It’s a good thing. There are a lot of countries around the world that want those capabilities,” said Marillyn Hewson, chief executive of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), which builds the Hellfire missiles used on Predator and Reaper drones built by privately held General Atomics. “I think it’s a win-win.”

Hewson said the impact of the new policy would depend on how it was implemented by the U.S. government, but it made sense for Washington to streamline its export process to help U.S. allies beef up their ability to fight major security threats.

“From the government’s perspective ... this will help them build the capability (of partners) so they can support the global security initiatives around the world,” Hewson told Reuters in an interview at the company’s annual “media day.”

General Atomics also welcomed the news.

“General Atomics supports the administration’s new policy as a step forward in improving relationships with our key allies and enabling interoperable missions across a broad range of engagements,” Frank Pace, president of the company’s aircraft systems business, said in a statement.

Micah Zenko, a drone expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said U.S. allies were looking for training and maintenance in addition to the actual aircraft, which could spell further opportunities for companies in coming years.

Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N), which builds Global Hawk and Triton high-altitude spy planes, declined comment, saying it needed to study the new policy first.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry trade group, also reserved judgment for now.

“The devil’s in the details,” said Remy Nathan, vice president of the Aerospace Industries Association. His group has asked for a briefing about the classified details of the policy.

Nathan said the new policy should help industry and government agencies better understand the factors that will be used to decide whether to approve exports of military and commercial drones, clarifying a previously murky area.

Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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