Joint international development programs — which can help the government offset the cost of weapon programs while fostering better relations with allies — may be under fire during the Trump administration.
President Donald Trump has made “America First” the guiding slogan of his administration, but that will not bode well with international partners, said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based defense and aerospace market analysis firm.
It “is toxic for multi-national defense programs and for alliances in general,” he told National Defense. “‘America First’ just doesn’t sit well with multi-national defense commitments on an industrial or strategic level.”
While Defense Secretary James Mattis is “undoubtedly quite open” to such partnerships, the rest of the Trump administration is sending signals to its allies that they are not a priority, he said.
“One reason you’re part of a multi-national program if you’re a foreign partner is that strategic relationship, which Trump has made clear is not really a factor anymore, or obsolete perhaps in his parlance,” he said.
The F-35 joint strike fighter is one example of an international joint development weapons program. The effort is being led by the United States, but includes partner nations such as the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia, to name a few.
Christine Wormuth, senior advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ international security program and the former undersecretary for policy at the office of the secretary of defense, said: “The incentives for the United States that drive international joint development are ones that are likely to be pretty constant. And I think from the perspective of the Defense Department, it’s probably going to remain desirable to try to find projects where we can cooperate with our allies and partners around the world.”
The United States receives big benefits from participating in multi-national programs, she said. Interoperability among the United States and its allies is one example.
“To the extent that we continue to operate more often or not in some sort of coalition format, having that interoperability, I think, is incredibly valuable,” she said during a panel discussion at CSIS in January. “We will undoubtedly see that with the F-35. It’s going to help us be more interoperable, not just with our European allies, but also with Israel and a couple of the countries in Asia.”
Other nations benefit as well because there is a technology transfer and it helps boost their own industrial bases, she added.
Photo: An F-35 joint strike fighter (Lockheed Martin)