DOD Aims to Streamline Foreign Military Sales Program
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 13, 2011 The Defense Department is streamlining the way it administers the foreign military sales program, including testing a concept to get pre-approvals for requests for high-demand technologies such as unmanned aerial systems, the director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said June 10.
Navy Vice Adm. William E. Landay III oversees DOD’s execution of the State Department program that has delivered more than $96 billion in defense weapons systems, equipment and services to other countries and international organizations in the last five years.
Foreign military sales have averaged $30 billion for each of the last three years, up almost three-fold from the 2005-2008 timeframe, Landay said. In addition, many customers who once were willing to forego fast delivery to keep the bottom line as low as possible now want their goods and services as fast as possible, often to support current operations.
“This is a different environment,” Landay said. “What we need to do is make sure that the foreign military sales system we are operating is changing with that environment, and preferably, changing ahead of that environment so we can continue to support our customers.”
DSCA is giving its FMS processes a top-to-bottom review to make it improve processes and make it more flexible and responsive to customer needs, he said.
Among 11 core initiatives under way, one involves working with interagency partners and customers at the front end of the process to shape foreign military sales purchase requests before they’re made. Something as simple as getting customers to request technologies that already have been developed, rather than still in the pipeline, can go a long way toward speeding up delivery, Landay said.
Another DSCA initiative seeks to apply a more systematic approach to processing requests for the most sought-after technologies, including unmanned vehicles and unmanned aerial systems. Instead of processing countries’ requests in succession, Landay said, the idea is to make broader foreign military sales decisions early on, before the purchase requests ever come in.
“Can we, in advance of getting lots of technology requests, sit down and make a determination of what kinds of vehicles and capabilities we might be comfortable releasing before the countries even ask us for it so we know the answer?” he asked. “If we are going to release a capability to Country A, what other countries might we be willing to release it to? And why don’t we take all of them through the process at the same time, so that when those subsequent countries come in [with requests], we have already made a determination of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that.”
Foreign military sales isn’t a one-size-fits-all program, Landay noted, as the United States sells different levels of technology to different countries. But by determining in advance what level of capability it is willing to sell to what specific countries, the entire process can be speeded up, he explained.
Another initiative DSCA is exploring involves buying some of the highest-demand foreign military sales items in advance so they’re available for delivery on request. “From our view, the fastest way to speed up the acquisition process is to already have [the equipment] in the warehouse,” Landay said.
Pre-stocking obviously won’t work for major sales involving aircraft and ships, he acknowledged, but could be the solution to expediting deliveries of sought-after equipment such as night-vision devices, body armor, vehicles and radios.
DOD already has the authorities needed to use foreign military sales funds to pre-stock this type of equipment. What’s lacking, but what the fiscal 2012 defense budget request could provide, is the funding mechanism to support the process, the admiral said.
“If Congress approves the authority to expend the funds, next year we will stand up the [special defense acquisition fund] and start to buy for that,” Landay said. “I think that will have a significant improvement in our ability to respond to requests.”
Landay said these and other improvements being pursued at DSCA show major promise for the foreign military sales program. “The idea is to get what the customers have asked us to do: to be not just faster, but more flexible and more responsible,” while continuing to maintain the controls built into the program, he said.
Ultimately, a successful foreign military sales program supports U.S. national interests, he explained.
“As a country continues to strengthen its ability to defend its borders, to protect itself and potentially, to operate with partners in the region or with the U.S., all of that strengthens the U.S. from a security perspective,” he said. “When there is security in a region, that benefits the entire world. And when and if we were to have to operate together, [and] countries … have the ability to operate well with the United States, that benefits both of us.”
Landay called the foreign military sales program key to U.S. relationship-building efforts around with world.
He pointed to the example of Egypt, a strong U.S. partner with a long history of buying U.S. military technology through the program. As Egypt underwent political turmoil earlier this year, military-to-military communications paths with the United States remained strong, he said.
“Part of that was built on a longstanding foreign military sales relationship and program between the Egyptians and the United States,” Landay said. “While built on foreign military sales, it also established those relationships [and] those partnerships so that when other things came up, we at least had the ability to pick up the phones and talk to each other.”