In the absence of the US and other MTCR-signatories, adversaries like China have expanded their reach in the development and proliferation of large UAVs, according to a new RAND report.

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a multilateral export control agreement between 35 countries that has been an effective tool in limiting the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, but has only had “some effect” in UAV technology, according to the report, because other countries, like China, have assisted in its proliferation.

MTCR countries, US included, have significant limitations on exporting category 1 large UAVs (category 1 is defined as those able to carry over 500kg for more than 300km), which is what has allowed China and others to fill in the vacuum.

For example, China will be building a factory in Saudi Arabia for the development of 300 large UAVs, including possibly the CH-5, a category 1 UAV.

Even within the signatories of the MTCR, there seems to be a break. Germany is codeveloping a category 1 OPA with Qatar and Italy plans to export a potentially category 1 system to the UAE.

Overall, RAND found that the export controls from the MTCR negatively impact the US, in terms of security, economic, and political interests.

Security-wise, it limits our allies’ capabilities and hinders interoperability with our allies when the US is unable to sell its UAVs.

Economically, US firms may lose future business opportunities for countries currently developing the technology and our global market share is cut.

Politically, it hurts our relations with countries that instead may opt to codevelop or manufacture with China, which may “not only increase military cooperation between the acquiring nation and China, but also can also influence collaboration with the United States.”  

Regardless, the RAND report concludes, as the UAV industry grows from $6 billion in 2015 to $12 billion in 2025, “nations that are motivated and can afford to acquire them will likely be able to do so,” whether that’s the US, if the MTCR export controls are lifted, or if its China.