WASHINGTON — A top US State Department official said she believes there is no need to reform the current Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system, despite complaints from both foreign customers and Pentagon leadership that the current system is too slow.
Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, was direct when asked if she felt a need to change the way the FMS system works, flatly stating "nope."
"I understand that there is a kind of mythology out there about the slow movement of foreign military sales, foreign military financing," Gottemoeller said at an event hosted by the Defense Writer's Group.
"But I think we can clearly set the record straight with many examples, and also look to cooperate more intensively to ensure our partners across the interagency and also in foreign capitals to understand how the system works, and also how beneficial it is for US national security," she added.
The mention of "interagency" comes as Pentagon officials, including Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, have become more vocal about their desire to see changes in how the FMS process is structured.
James in particular has pledged to direct the Air Force to find ways to speed up the weapon sales process, although it remains unclear what she can do directly as a service secretary.
Members of Congress have also begun discussion the issue, with Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, chair of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee and vice chair of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, writing a March 4 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter asking for changes to the system.
"Unfortunately, our current [Foreign Military Financing] and FMS processes are not efficient," Granger wrote. "I frequently hear from our friends and allies that excessive delays put significant strains on their relationships with the U.S. The damage extends to our industrial base as it is causing many of our partners to seek support elsewhere, including from Russia and China. This has gone on far too long without significant reform. This is unacceptable."
However, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight over foreign weapon sales, appear to be more relaxed about the issue, with the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, describing the complaints as part of the natural back and forth that occurs when a foreign nation wants a US weapon.
On Tuesday, Gottemoeller emphasized that the process in place is there to make sure that nations using US gear do so appropriately, both when they first receive the weapons and through the lifetime of their use.
"It's in our national interest, our national security interest, to ensure we have eyes on, and some knowledge of, how foreign partners are using weapons after we make those sales," she said.
"And I think it's very important to recognize that as a nation, the United States take a very responsible attitude towards weapon sales and ensures that not only do we have end use promises made by countries but we have an opportunity afterwards to go back and make sure they are actually living up to those commitments that they made when the sales are promulgated."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.