WASHINGTON — The US State Department and the Pentagon's office for selling military equipment to foreign allies announced on Wednesday that they are embarking on a program that will for the first time allow NATO members to acquire and share American military hardware among members of the alliance.
At a time when defense budgets among most NATO nations are expected to be flat at best for the foreseeable future, NATO has been experimenting with pooling and co-development arrangements through its Smart Defense program as a way to share costs and risks in developing and fielding new weapons systems.
As this Smart Defense initiative has gained traction, the US government has looked for ways to become involved, in part to assure the interoperability of alliance assets, and in part to make sure that the US defense industry remains a major player in the European defense market.
A Jan. 30 memo signed by US Navy Vice Adm. J.W. Rixey, head of the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), said that while there has been "no past practice to accommodate" transactions that would allow pooling or use by more than one NATO partner of US assets, "NATO Allies are [now] seeking mutual cost sharing both within and outside NATO to maximize the purchasing power of their defense budgets."
As NATO allies continue to cooperatively develop and acquire weapons systems, some of these initiatives "will involve joint procurement of defense articles and services through a lead country with the potential for flexible retransfers among members of the group."
As a result, and in keeping with Rixey's recent push to make the DSCA more responsive to the changing needs of critical allies, the DSCA and State Department have launched this two-year pilot program to allow for "lead nation procurements" of US-made items.
In a Wednesday statement, the DSCA said that "proposals for lead-nation procurements involving NATO organizations and NATO member countries will be considered on a case-by-case basis during a two-year test period."
The lead nation or NATO organization that makes the initial purchase will be the sole purchaser "with full financial responsibility," the organization said, while the US will "provide defense articles in a configuration approved as appropriate for use in common by the lead nation and all identified and accepted transferees."
The initiative also fits nicely within other recent Pentagon priorities like the Better Buying Power 3.0 program, which envisions more burden-sharing with NATO allies in the development and prototyping of weapons systems and platforms.