WASHINGTON — The Obama administration unveiled a new policy Tuesday allowing foreign allies to buy military drones, weapons that have become a cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.
For years, U.S. drone makers have been eager to feed the international appetite for the high-tech unmanned aircraft that have reshaped modern warfare, but U.S. export regulations have prevented them from doing so.
The new policy, which was completed after years of internal review by the Defense, Commerce, and State departments, is designed to allow those exports while building in protections against misuse of the technology.
Officials suggested the sales could become a tool for expanding U.S. influence overseas.
The change of policy could result in a windfall for the aerospace industry. In its latest assessment of the industry, aerospace research firm Teal Group Corp. estimated that drone spending would almost double to $11.5 billion in 2024.
But the prospect of U.S. sales of lethal drone technology to other countries is controversial. Critics say the aircraft lower the threshold for the use of military force by allowing countries to attack without fear of risking pilots.
Britain is currently the sole country that flies American-made drones that are armed.