Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles and Systems

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Export Controls on UAV’s / UAS’s

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) (collectively, “UASs”) have the potential to use some of the most high-profile and highly controlled technologies currently in use. They are considered a “dual-use” item: a commodity that can be used for both military/strategic and commercial/civilian purposes. Almost all UAS are subject to some form of export control, even if the UAV/UAS is for research or non-commercial use. Different UAS abilities will cause the hardware, software, and technical information associated with the UAS to be controlled by government regulatory regimes.

Many UASs are export controlled under either the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) governed by the Department of Commerce, or the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) governed by the Department of State. UASs which are specifically designed for a defense purpose—regardless of their intended use at FIU—will usually be controlled under the ITAR. UASs which are civil by design intent, but with capabilities that could inherently be useful for defense purposes, will generally be controlled under the EAR. Both sets of regulations trigger foreign national access and use restrictions with respect to the equipment as well as related software and technology (information); however, as outlined below, access thresholds differ significantly depending on whether the item is ITAR versus EAR controlled.

Department of State Regulations (ITAR) and UAS Classification

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) have specific controls and regulations on both unarmed and armed military UAS. “Military” in this respect is a UAS that was designed to military or intelligence specifications, designed for a military application, or that may be classified or controlled for national security purposes. Items controlled under the USML are subject to strict restrictions on export to foreign countries and access by foreign nationals. Foreign nationals, even students, are not permitted to work on or have access to any ITAR controlled UAS (including all associated hardware, software, and technical data) without explicit authorization from the U.S. Government in the form of export licenses. The chart below details how specific capabilities are controlled under the ITAR’s United States Munitions List (USML).

Classification Description USML Category Number Notes
Unarmed military UAVs VIII(a)(5) Considered “Significant Military Equipment”
ALL armed UAVs VIII(a)(6) No range for USML threshold listed, considered “Significant Military Equipment”
UAV flight control systems and vehicle management systems with swarming capability VIII(h)(12) Swarming – UAVs interact with each other to avoid collisions and stay together, or, if weaponized, coordinate targeting

Other components of a UAS may also be controlled depending on their capabilities and if they are built to United States or foreign military specification. Other UAS components that may be ITAR-controlled include but are not limited to fire control systems, certain guidance and navigation systems, and anti-collision capabilities.

Department of Commerce (EAR) Regulations and UAS Classification

The Export Administration Regulations (EAR) control the export of mostly commercial and “dual use” items. Many UAS used in research today fall under the commercial or dual use category.  While not as restricted as items on the USML, many items and technology on the EAR’s Commerce Control List (CCL) are potentially restricted to foreign nationals. The chart below outlines the primary UAS related categories on the CCL.

Classification Description Export Control Classification Number Notes
Nonmilitary UAVs or unmanned airships with maximum endurance greater than or equal to 30 minutes but less than 1 hour and designed to take-off and have stable controlled flight in wind gusts equal to or exceeding 46.3 km/h (25 knots) 9A012.a.1
Nonmilitary UAV with maximum endurance of 1 hour or greater 9A012.a.2 *This is the most common UAS for research use
Complete UAV with autonomous flight control 9A120.a.1 Only if not specified by 9A012
Complete UAV with capability of controlled-flight out of the direct vision range of human operator 9A120.a.2 Only if not specified by 9A012
Complete UAV with aerosol dispensing system 9A120.b.1 Must have capacity greater than 20 liters

EAR controls apply to items found on the Commerce Control List (CCL) and apply on a country-by-country (citizenship by citizenship basis), rather than as a blanket restriction on all foreign nationals. UAVs are controlled for numerous reasons such as national security, missile technology, anti-terrorism, etc. These control levels are, in turn, mapped to various countries and their nationals.

Can a Foreign National Operate a Controlled UAS or UAV?

In general, a foreign national must do more than merely operate or use a dual use item for a “deemed export” to occur. Rather, the foreign national’s level of access would have to enable him/her to gain what is defined as “use” or “development” technology. For EAR purposes, “use” technology is defined as information relating to:

  • operation
  • installation (including on-site installation)
  • maintenance (checking)
  • repair
  • overhaul
  • refurbishing

Hence, if an item is controlled for “use” technology, the foreign national would have to perform at least several of these functions so as to gain an understanding of the underlying controlled technology. In other words, if when installing or refurbishing a controlled component on a controlled UAS, a foreign national gains an understanding of the controlled technology of either the component or the UAS system as a whole, a deemed export may be triggered if the “use” technology control applies to that particular person’s citizenship.

Alternatively, UASs may be controlled for “development” technology which is defined as information “related to all stages prior to serial production, such as: design, design research, design analyses, design concepts, assembly and testing of prototypes, pilot production schemes, design data, process of transforming design data into a product, configuration design, integration design, layouts.” Hence, were a foreign national to use a repair manual or software code that contained this type of design information or perform related design activities, a deemed export could be triggered. Likewise, were such design technology provided to the foreign national in order to engage in one of the aforementioned “use” activities, for example installation, this could likewise trigger a deemed export, even if the foreign national isn’t “designing” anything per se.

EAR “600 series” requirements

There is one class of more highly controlled EAR dual use UASs where even merely operating the device can trigger a deemed export, such that the technology transfer is deemed to occur through this activity alone. These items are found in the so-called “600” series within Category 9 of the CCL.

To the extent that you wish to authorize foreign nationals to gain access to controlled “use” or “development” technology, or use a “600 series” EAR item, export licenses may be granted by the Commerce Department’s BIS division; note that routine deemed export licenses can take up to 60 days to receive approval.

Are parts/ systems for UAVs also controlled?

The CCL also controls certain types of autopilot systems (e.g. fly-by-wire), GPS, gimbals, and sensors. Additionally, the EAR has levels of control for different countries, such as Anti-Terrorism or Regional Stability. For example, certain UAS may be exported to Canada without government authorization, but that same UAS could not be exported to Egypt for national security reasons.

What happens if my UAV/ UAS is export controlled?

The Export Control Office can help you determine whether your UAV/ UAS is export controlled. If your UAS is controlled, the Export Office will also help you understand what controls apply, and how to store, operate, and use your UAV/UAS within the requirements. Potential steps include:

How are federal export controls different from FAA regulations?

The operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), including but not limited to “drones” and model aircraft, is regulated by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and applicable state and local law. Additionally, the Department of State and the Department of Commerce control certain UAS for export outside of the United States. All members of the University, specifically staff, faculty and students, are responsible for complying with appropriate FAA and export control regulations, as well as all relevant university policies, when purchasing or using UAS as part of their University duties.

Export controls and FAA regulations are equally important, but different missions and end-goals. FAA regulations are focused on civilian aviation safety and general public safety. Export controls, however, are primarily concerned with the transfer of sensitive technologies for national security purposes. While there are some overlap, the regulations are not harmonized. FAA approval (such as a COA or other form of flight authorization) does not authorize the export or transfer of the UAS to foreign countries or foreign nationals.

As a federally registered exporter, and as a recipient of government contracts, the University must comply with all federal law regarding the research use and export of controlled materials, software, and technology. Research use of UAS is heavily regulated by the FAA and the major United States export control regimes. This affects:

  1. University faculty, staff, and students operating unmanned aircraft systems in any location as part of their University research employment or as part of University research activities.
  2. Any purchase of unmanned aircraft systems (for research purposes only) with funding through the University, including university accounts, grants, or foundation accounts.

Examples of FAA Restrictions (Please contact the Office of General Counsel for the most up-to-date requirements):

  • All UAS over .55 pounds (250g/8.8 oz.) must be registered with the FAA PRIOR to any flight outdoors. Examples of UAS that need to be registered can be found at the Federal Drone Registration page. UAS weighing more than 55 pounds require additional registration requirements with the UAS. Registration costs $5 and is valid for 3 years. More information can be found at the FAA Drone Information site.
  • Additional requirements for registration with FAA if UAS is not specifically for hobby and recreation use (i.e. commercial use)
  • Additional registration requirements from FAA for any UAS that will be used outside of the United States and potential export licenses from BIS or DDTC

What about hobby UASs?

While most hobby UASs are not export controlled, many UAVs/ UASs used in research have capabilities that are controlled. Additionally, even some commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components can be controlled, either individually or as part of a complete UAS.

What do I do if I have or am working on a controlled UAS, ground system, or technology?

As a federally registered exporter and as a recipient of government contracts, FIU must comply with all federal law regarding the research use and export of controlled materials, software, and technology. If your UAS falls into one of the above ITAR or CCL categories, the Export Control Office will work with you to review for conditions that undermine the Fundamental Research Exclusion and ensure full compliance with the applicable regulations. Depending on the research, a Technology Control Plan (TCP) may be required. A TCP outlines specific physical security, cybersecurity, and training requirements for individual projects.

What if I have to ship a UAS overseas for field research or as part of a contract deliverable?

Depending on the end-user and end-use of the UAS, international UAS exports may require an export license authorization from the US Government. You may also require licensed authorization for foreign nationals to work on controlled UAS in the United States as well. The OEC will draft and submit the license application on your behalf. The license review process can take up to 18 months, so appropriate planning for license submittal (preferably at the proposal stage) is required.

What information do I need to provide for an export control review or license application?

For export license applications, technology control plans, and sponsored research contract reviews, the Export Control Office will need the following information:

  • Manufacturer and model number of UAS components (including autopilot and any payload)
  • Specific UAS capability (including flight time and payload)
  • Sponsor of project and statement of work (SOW)
  • Names and organizations of all collaborators (United States or otherwise)
  • Potential date(s) of export
  • Required foreign national access (such as source code, blueprints, or design manifests)

When should I contact the Office of Export Controls about my UAS project?

The Office of Export Controls can assist you with the following activities:

  • Review of export control requirements in proposals and contracts
  • Review of publication or participant restrictions in proposals and contracts
  • Review of current or proposed UAS capabilities and export classification of UAS
  • International exports of UAS and associated export paperwork
  • Technology Control Plans for UAS associated with sponsored research
  • Drafting and submitting export license applications for international UAS collaborative research