Opaque Restrictions Hurt U.S. Sales Abroad

By Vicky  Hartzler
A Navy frigate patrols the Indian Ocean.

Recent media reports noted that India intends to procure military equipment from “strategic partners” that are able to provide cutting-edge weapons and equipment without major restrictions. Meanwhile, the United States foreign military sales program, while justifiably deliberate in its policies, suffers from opaque processes and burdensome restrictions, forcing countries like India to search elsewhere for equipment. 

When the United States provides our allies the opportunity to acquire U.S.-made military equipment and services, it improves our own security, benefits coalition operations, solidifies bilateral relationships, and creates a more cost-effective Defense Department already impacted by an austere fiscal environment. Considering the powerful advantages foreign military sales bring to the United States, it is important to understand the competitive nature of the international marketplace. We need to acknowledge we’re not the only country out there looking to reap those benefits and we need to address our competitive disadvantages. 

A customer-centric business is more likely to gain market share in a competitive environment. Unfortunately, according to a report from the Aerospace Industries Association, the U.S. market share in the aerospace and defense export business was roughly the same in 2014 as it was in 2009. We must make our FMS system transparent, efficient and predictable to ward off concern that other international suppliers will leverage their own system’s flexibility to grow their own market share with sales to previously consistent U.S. customers. 

India, a strategically located South Asian nation, has been recognized as one of our major defense partners. At the same time, according to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his country is also laying the “foundations for deeper defense and economic ties in years ahead” with Russia through the aforementioned agreement worth $10 billion in air defense systems, stealth frigates and utility helicopters. These are assets the United States defense industry is just as, if not more capable of producing and delivering to our strategic and vetted international defense partners.

The Philippines, a key ally in the United States’ rebalance to Asia and the Pacific, has recently made a rebalance of its own, moving away from us in favor of China and Russia. To announce this change in foreign policy, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte cited arms sales as the first tangible shift away from the United States, stating he would only seek military equipment and services from Russia and China. When President Duterte recently said “The U.S. has lost,” it would be appropriate to also infer the United States has lost its ability to influence the military actions of the Philippines through arms sales. 

A single sale of military equipment offers years of relationship building and strengthening between nations. U.S. security cooperation officers engage in their country station to help that country find solutions to its equipment or service needs. U.S. procuring contracting officers negotiate the sale terms on behalf of the purchasing nation, building trust by acting in its best interest. U.S. defense industrial base companies deliver world-class products and maintain them for years after. If we don’t take advantage of these opportunities to cement relationships, someone else will. As we are seeing in Russia and China, other countries will fill the void left by an absence of an American presence and seize the opportunity to foster bilateral trust and mutual economic reliance. 

In the case of foreign military sales, as in business, countries that can adapt and respond to the ebbs and flows of the geopolitical landscape can best maintain or increase their own positions and security. Our foreign military sales program is no different. China saw its weapons exports double between 2011 and 2015. Russia is steadily increasing its capability to match ours. These increases are, at least in part, due to our rigid and outdated foreign military sales program.

There are opportunities for reform in the foreign military sales program — and we must make those changes in an ever-adapting marketplace for defense sales before we lose even more international influence than we have the past eight years. We have the opportunity to create a modern, responsive and “situationally aware” process, complemented by an adequately trained and equipped acquisition workforce to execute FMS contracts. If we don’t, the Russias and Chinas of the world will. 

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.


Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.