Foreign Military Sales Essential to U.S. Defense

It is widely accepted that the foreign military sales process has a critical impact on U.S. national security. Our nation reaps the benefits from interoperability with foreign partners and the multilateral trust it builds. 

In addition to this vital role that foreign military sales, or FMS, play in our collective defense, there is another, equally compelling reason why it is critically important. Foreign military sales save the Department of Defense, and therefore the U.S. taxpayer, staggering amounts of money.

In joint operations with our allies when we are all employing the same equipment, there’s another aspect of interoperability that’s important to note: Every fighter aircraft, surface combatant, vehicle and weapon system that our partners have purchased from the United States to stand with us in combat is one that the United States didn’t have to buy itself.

As I mentioned in a National Defense op-ed last month, the United States and the United Kingdom both operate P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft to protect the North Sea against Russian encroachment. Instead of the United States embarking on this mission by itself, the United Kingdom shares this responsibility with us. They share the cost burden with us to accomplish the mission.

Every opportunity for cost savings must be realized given today’s tightened fiscal realities. While the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 provided the Defense Department temporary relief from sequestration, we’re not out of the woods.

Reckless, arbitrary cuts loom in the future, and our men and women in uniform still face a readiness crisis today. As we continue to ask our military to do more with less, it’s important that we act on a solution that can stretch defense dollars further.

The most recent omnibus reprogramming action the Pentagon sent to Capitol Hill clearly demonstrated savings due to foreign military sales. Multiple programs across the Army, Navy and Air Force saw lower production costs, efficiencies gained and reduced costs for future modernization as a result of more foreign sales than expected. It is simple economics — economies of scale are achieved when orders increase and the individual unit price decreases.

The Pentagon doesn’t just realize these savings as an afterthought. In fact, they plan for them in the annual budget cycle as well. Each of the services makes assumptions about production lines being open in their business case analyses and budget predictions.

For example, when the Navy budgeted for its procurement of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft in the “future years defense program,” it assumed Boeing’s production lines in St. Louis, Missouri, would be open and ready to roll out more aircraft at a predictable price in fiscal year 2018. That production line was safe to be assumed open because of a sale of F/A-18 variants to Kuwait.  

However, the Obama administration continues to stall on the Kuwait sale, which threatens that production line. Without an order to fill, that St. Louis production line would be forced to close. The Navy would have no choice but to fill a critical requirement by paying a premium to reopen the production line, rehire and retrain employees, reestablish a supplier base and then wait the requisite time to ramp up to full-scale production.

Everything from the Super Hornet’s radar and sensor systems to the composite frame of the aircraft relies on sales for continuity. Ultimately, when the United States sells defense equipment to our international partners, it provides stability and cost savings for our own domestic use and efforts in efficiency.

Our country faces continually evolving external threats. Russia and China unpredictably seek to expand their influence, and non-state actors like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria drive new requirements.

We also face a range of self-imposed internal threats. The Department of Defense requires levels of funding proportional to the results we expect from it. In recent years, however, expectations have risen while funding levels have reached dangerous lows.

We must adapt, and we must act on solutions that can ease this strain. Finding new approaches to facilitate foreign military sales — to increase interoperability and to save valuable taxpayer dollars — is critical to our national security.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., serves on the House Armed Services, Agriculture and Budget Committees. In the 114th Congress she was named chairwoman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee to oversee the administration’s defense policies.


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