The United States controls the export of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) through both multilateral export control regimes and national export controls, such as The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), that, according to its text: “seeks to limit the risks of proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons by controlling exports of goods and technologies that could make a contribution to delivery systems of such weapons".
The MTCR, which currently consists of 35 partner countries, is an informal voluntary arrangement whose partners agree to apply common export policy guidelines to an annex containing two categories of controlled items:
Category I MTCR items are the most sensitive and include complete UAS “capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km, their major complete subsystems ... and related software and technology,” as well as “specially designed” production facilities for these UAS and subsystems. Partner governments should have “a strong presumption to deny” such transfers, regardless of their purpose, but may transfer such items on “rare occasions.” The guidelines prohibit exports of production facilities for Category I items.
Regime partners have greater flexibility with respect to authorizing exports of Category II items, which include less sensitive and dual-use missile related components. This category also includes complete UAS, regardless of payload, capable of ranges of at least 300 km, as well as other UAS with certain characteristics.
The U.S. military has always been interested in remotely piloted aircraft.
Present-day UAS typically consist of an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) paired with a ground control station. The Department of Defense (DOD) defines UAVs, and, by extension, UAS as powered aircraft that
do not carry a human operator,
use aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift,
can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable,
and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload.
Ballistic or semiballistic vehicles, cruise missiles, and artillery projectiles are not considered UASs under the DOD definition.
Source: US Naval Institute