The Defense Security Cooperation Agency last year saw a substantial increase in the arms sales it administers, including arms purchased directly by partner nations with their own funds and sales funded through the Foreign Military Financing program.
Total arms sales in fiscal year 2022, about $52 billion worth, exceeded FY21's $34.81 billion in sales by nearly 50%.
James A. Hursch, the director of DSCA, cited factors such as the waning effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and concerns about China's rising influence in the Pacific as possible reasons for increased sales.
"Perhaps most importantly, [we attribute this to] the understanding among our partners and allies that we're back in an age of great power competition," Hursch said. "They see what's happened in Ukraine. Central European countries, for example, are looking to get some of the same capabilities that have worked well for the Ukrainian army, and to increase their own capabilities for deterrence."
In the Pacific, allies and partners are wary of China's increasing dominance. "Allies are looking at China and the situations with China in Asia, and thinking they need to increase their capabilities," he said.
Last year's increase can also be attributed to existing partners now opting to buy more expensive gear, Hursch said.
"As we continue to improve our equipment, it tends to get more costly. Buying a HIMARS system, for example, is more expensive than buying a Howitzer," he said referring to the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. "And that's the sort of upgrade that several of our allies and partners are looking to do."
While large equipment purchases are responsible for much of last year's increase, it can also be attributed in part to some of DSCA's less costly programs which help partner nations build institutional capacity, he said.
"We do things like making sure they have the capacity to do coastal surveillance or maritime surveillance," he said. "We work with countries that are working to build their own airspace surveillance."
To help with that capacity building, Hursch said DSCA last year deployed 42 defense advisors to 23 different countries through DSCA's Ministry of Defense Advisors program.
"These are folks who are actually embedded in foreign governments to provide advice to countries, which could be about their procurement stuff, but could also be about helping set up a national security strategy," he said.
In the coming years, Hursch said, he expects to see continued increases in arms sales — but he also said it would be difficult to predict by just how much. One contributing factor which he said makes him confident of increasing sales is that many allies have publicly committed to spending more on their own defense.
"When you look at our allies and partners, a lot of them have increased their defense budgets in recent years, or in the last year or so, in response to what's happened in Ukraine," he said. "I think we will continue to see strong demand signals because of that ... It's a little hard to tell exactly how much the increase will be, but I think it will be at least as strong as this year and probably a little higher."
Also, a possibility for increased sales in the future, Hursch said, is that allies and partners in Eastern Europe may be interested in providing their own Soviet-era equipment to Ukraine and would then be interested in buying replacement equipment from the U.S. to backfill their own capabilities.
"We have had those conversations," he said. "In fact, in last year's foreign military financing budget, the State Department had a certain amount of money that was given out to help replace Soviet-era systems that might have been donated to Ukraine, and to help them buy Western systems in the future. So, there have been some of these conversations."
Between the Feb. 24, 2022, Russian invasion of Ukraine and the end of FY22, the U.S. committed to more than $14.9 billion in security assistance to Ukraine through both presidential drawdown authority and the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
A drawdown allows the president in certain circumstances to withdraw existing weapons, ammunitions and material from existing U.S. military stocks and provide that to other nations. Support under USAI differs from that provided as part of PDA in that it uses money appropriated by Congress to purchase new equipment for Ukraine rather than having it be limited to pulling from existing military inventory.
DSCA was involved in helping the U.S. meet both of those kinds of commitments to Ukraine, Hursch said.
"All of those presidential drawdown authority execution orders — telling the military departments and service to actually do that — are done by DSCA," Hursch said. "And we're intimately involved ... in working through the demand signals that come from theater and from U.S. European Command, working through shaping and putting together the packages of presidential drawdown amount and getting that coordinated within the U.S. government and the department."
DSCA, Hursch said, was also involved in several tranches of providing USAI support to Ukraine as well.
DSCA has more than 1,200 authorized military and civilian positions and contractor personnel. But the total workforce involved in security cooperation efforts across the entire Defense Department exceeds 16,000. While some of those security cooperation professionals don't work directly for Hursch, they are accredited in their work and are also trained at the Defense Security Cooperation University, a part of DSCA which stood up just a little over three years ago.
Meeting 2022's security cooperation efforts around the globe, Hursch said, required the efforts of all of those professionals.
"The enterprise as a whole, not just DSCA, stepped up last year," he said. "As a whole, we have increased our focus on trying to get things done quickly, to get the foreign military sales process to work more quickly and to get wherever possible contracts to be let faster."
Hursch said DOD has been directed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to improve their own part of the Foreign Military Sales process.
"The secretary asked us to look at ways in which we can improve the FMS process as a whole," he said, adding that it's not the first time DSCA has been asked to streamline and improve their portion of FMS. He said as part of the SECDEF's most-recent direction, the team has looked at several case studies so that they might draw from those some lessons on how to improve.
"One [lesson] is the continued need to better educate and prepare our workforce over time, which we put some effort in, but we need to do more on," he said. "Another is questions about the acquisition system — which is something which we're working on altogether, with the acquisition and sustainment folks."
As a result of COVID-19, he said, there have also been concerns about the capacity of the U.S. industrial base to manufacture and provide the materiel foreign nations might want to procure from the U.S.
"Our acquisition and sustainment people have been working hard to try to make progress on that," he said. "In terms of actual recommendations, we have talked about some places where we can try to decrease bottlenecks in the process. We've talked about whether we can improve our ability to forecast demand signals to help the industrial base. And we're putting in place processes — some committees and structures within the department — to try to make sure that we keep this sort of continuous process improvement moving forward."
DSCA also serves as executive agent for six regional centers for security studies. The newest of those, the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, opened in August in Anchorage, Alaska. The center will in part help the U.S. security apparatus navigate new opportunities and challenges opening in the Arctic, Hursch said.
"They have taken off fairly quickly to do several things," Hursch said. "One is to undertake work that helps U.S. government personnel understand the challenges of doing business in this incredibly fragile environment — an increasingly and strategically important environment."
The center, he said, has already been working with international partners in the Arctic, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Canada and Norway, to discuss challenges there and to ensure interoperability and mutual understanding between nations operating in the region. Topics of discussion include climate change, hard power in the region, and working with indigenous populations who live in the Arctic.
"[The center has] been very active in sort of creating this community of interest," he said. "There's a lot of different work that they've been engaged in."
Hursch said in the last year, he thinks DSCA and security cooperation have moved to the center of the U.S. national security policy as a primary tool for what's happening in both Eastern Europe and Asia.
"We think there'll be more of that," he said. "I think the centrality of our security cooperation mission will only continue to increase. If you look at the National Defense Strategy, and the National Security Strategy, you will see stronger words about the need to work with partners and allies — integrated deterrence has a very strong role for working with partners and allies."
Working with partners and allies, Hursch said, is what DSCA does — and well.
"We set up the relationships and we increase the capabilities through security cooperation," he said. "I think that will continue to increase."