The Cable

U.S. Firm Denied Request to Market Drones to Jordan

Republican congressman Duncan Hunter from Californian wants the decision reversed.

TO GO WITH: Pakistan-unrest-Afghanistan,
TO GO WITH: Pakistan-unrest-Afghanistan,FOCUS by Emmanuel Duparcq and S.H. Khan (FILES) In this file picture taken on on June 13, 2010, a US Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport. Times are hard for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the network has been weakened significantly by US drone strikes on their hideouts, the killing of founder Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and by finances drying up. AFP PHOTO/FILES/POOL/Massoud HOSSAINI (Photo credit should read MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Obama administration has denied a request from a leading U.S. defense contractor for a license to market its unarmed Predator drones to Jordan, whose requests for U.S.-made weapons are viewed as more urgent due to its participation in the fight against the Islamic State.

The contractor, General Atomics, submitted export license applications last spring to market the Predator XP, a new export version of the unarmed MQ-1 drone flown by the U.S. military, to Jordan and numerous other countries. The U.S. government formally denied the request for Jordan on Oct. 28, according to the office of Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican whose district includes San Diego, where General Atomics is based.

The company’s drone technology is closely guarded by the U.S. on national security grounds. The United Kingdom, France and Italy have the MQ-9 Reaper variant, developed for the U.S. Air Force. General Atomics designed the Predator XP specifically for the export market but as of yet, none have been exported. The company expects the United Arab Emirates to be its first customer.

In a Feb. 5 letter to President Barack Obama, Hunter urged the administration to immediately reverse its October decision about not issuing the license to General Atomics.

“Jordan is uniquely positioned to support and perhaps lead the fight against the Islamic State, and it’s now our obligation to offer Jordan our full support in this effort,” Hunter, a former Marine, wrote.

The congressman stressed that the unarmed drones provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that he says Jordan desperately needs in its fight against the militants who control parts of neighboring Iraq. Jordan has been one of the most active Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition mounting an ongoing air campaign against the group.

The State Department declined to comment on the letter, which they said they had not yet received, and are generally restricted under federal regulations from commenting on proposed commercial arms sales or transfers.

Jordan’s King Abdullah was in Washington this week to meet with senior administration officials and leading lawmakers, and on Tuesday the State Department announced plans to increase annual aid to Jordan from $660 million to $1 billion to help it pay for the fight against the Islamic State and the financial cost of caring for the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have fled to Jordan to escape the group. The announcement was overshadowed by the Islamic State’s release later that same day of a video of Moaz al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot captured in December when his F-16 crashed in Syria, being burned alive in a cage.

During his visit with the Senate Armed Services Committee, Abdullah expressed frustration that it was taking so long to get needed U.S. weapons.

On Wednesday, all of the members of the panel signed a letter to outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry calling for the urgent provision of weapons to Jordan.

“Jordan is seeking to obtain aircraft parts, additional night vision equipment, and precision munitions that the King feels he needs to secure his border and robustly execute combat air missions into Syria,” the letter reads, calling for them to be expedited through the U.S. foreign military sales system. It did not mention the unarmed Predator drones.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Kate Brannen is deputy managing editor at Just Security and a contributor to Foreign Policy, where she previously worked as a senior reporter. Twitter: @K8brannen

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