Obama eases export controls on some military spare parts

WASHINGTON, March 8 (Reuters) - The Obama administration has notified Congress of plans to modify U.S. weapon and ammunition export controls to make it easier for American companies to export spare parts for aircraft and gas turbine engines, the White House said on Friday.

Currently, everything on the U.S. Munitions List "is controlled equally, whether an F-18 fighter or a bolt that has been modified for use on that F-18, and each of these items requires an individual license," the White House said.

The proposed changes, which go into effect in 180 days of publication, provide "a streamlined export authorization process for thousands of parts and components" used in aircraft and gas turbine engines, the White House said.

The actions are the first changes to the Munitions List as part of a reform initiative that began early in President Barack Obama's administration, with enthusiastic backing from business.

The effort is aimed at easing export licensing requirements for less sensitive items and building better protections for the most critical technologies, administration officials said.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in April 2010 outlined the administration's plan to merge two separate government lists that govern exports of weaponry and dual-use technology goods into a single list.

"We need a system that dispenses with the 95 percent of 'easy' cases and lets us concentrate our resources on the remaining 5 percent," Gates said at the time.

The Commerce Department currently issues export licenses for dual-use goods and technology with both civilian and military applications.

The State Department administers the U.S. Munitions List, which contains 21 categories ranging from firearms and tanks to satellites and nuclear weapons design and test equipment.

"Rebuilding our export control lists and moving less sensitive items from the State to the Commerce list will provide us the flexibility to more efficiently equip and maintain our partner's capabilities while allowing us to focus on preventing potential adversaries from acquiring military items that they could use against us," the White House said.

U.S. manufacturers have complained that restrictions on less sensitive technologies have cost them billions of dollars in lost sales that have gone to foreign suppliers.

A study by the Milken Institute for the National Association of Manufacturers a few years ago estimated that modernizing export controls could boost real U.S. economic output by $64 billion and create 160,000 manufacturing jobs.

Closes U.S. allies have also complained that Washington's system makes it difficult for them to get spare parts for equipment they have bought from the United States. (Reporting By Doug Palmer)