WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has been quietly pushing to sell armed drones to key allies, but it has run into resistance from U.S. lawmakers concerned about the proliferation of technology and know-how.
The Pentagon wants more North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to have such pilotless aircraft to ease the burden on the U.S. in Afghanistan and in future conflicts like the alliance's air campaign in Libya this year.
Administration officials recently began informal consultations with lawmakers about prospective sales of armed drones and weapons systems to NATO members Italy and Turkey, while several U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf have been pressing Washington to authorize drone sales, officials said.
The Pentagon's proposed sales have set off a behind-the-scenes debate between the administration and some members of Congress over whether the U.S. should speed the spread of a technology that will allow other countries to carry out military strikes by remote control.
The growing debate comes at a time when human-rights groups are stepping up their campaign against the Obama administration's use of drones to kill suspected militants around the world.
So far, the U.S. has sold unarmed drones to several countries, including Italy, but has only allowed sales of armed drones to Britain, citing its relationship with the U.S. and large troop presence in Afghanistan.
Republican and Democratic committee leaders have been pressing the administration to spell out its policy on drone exports. Outside experts, meanwhile, have urged the White House to start thinking about the broader implications of sharing a technology that could transform how a growing number of countries wage war.
The administration is required by law to notify key congressional committees about prospective arms sales. Congress generally signs off quickly when deals involve NATO allies, but officials say the proposed transfer of armed drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, faces added scrutiny.