WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump has approved the State Department’s implementation plan for the administration’s “Buy American” push for boosting weapons exports that emphasizes the U.S. economy, the State Department announced Monday.
The Trump administration is undertaking an effort to support U.S. defense trade overseas to strengthen security partnerships, encourage interoperability, and protect American economic security and jobs, said the State Department’s Tina Kaidanow, who was in London leading the U.S. delegation at the Farnborough Airshow.
“The point is that it is exactly reflected in a place like Farnborough, where we are supporting U.S. economic security, and we are also achieving a number of national security goals in conjunction with our important partners and allies overseas,” the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs said in a call with reporters.
The implementation plan for the rule changes, announced in April, are in part meant to reverse the perception that the State Department is a frequent site of logjams in the Foreign Military Sales process.
Officially called the Conventional Arms Transfer policy, it’s intended to help private U.S. defense firms directly sell some types of weapons and unmanned drones to allies without the firms having to go through the U.S. government.
Since April, the U.S. government has been working on implementation plans with industry, which hailed Monday’s move.
Aerospace Industries Association CEO Eric Fanning said its recommendations for a strategic focus, whole-of-government coordination and enhanced accountability feature prominently in the implementation plan.
“It is absolutely essential for our government and our industry to get to the right answers on defense trade with our allies sooner so that we can continue to ‘outpartner’ our adversaries,” Fanning said. “Going forward, we commit to expanding our already robust dialogue and partnership with the government’s security cooperation enterprise to sustain and grow the competitiveness of U.S. defense exports.”
The U.S. already leads the world in arms transfers. In 2017, the State Department approved $42 billion in government-to-government sales; and so far this year, 2018 is on track to beat last year at $46 billion.
The State Department, under its plans outlined Monday, would help allies to identify critical capability requirements and employ a whole-of-government effort to expedite transfers.
In February, Kaidanow led a large U.S. delegation to Asia’s largest air show to pitch U.S. arms sales as China’s military footprint and political influence are surging. What’s spelled out in State’s plans is competition with adversaries by “providing allies and partners with alternatives to foreign defense articles in order to maintain U.S. influence in key regions.”
The plans also call for State to work with the defense industry to build exportability into its designs and development efforts, expanding support for non-program-of-record systems, and by incentivizing increased production capacity and timely delivery.
The State Department would tweak relevant rules, like the International Traffic in Arms Regulations framework; expand and enhance government advocacy and trade promotion in support of the American defense industry; and avoid offsets that imperil domestic jobs or reduce America’s technological edge.
The implementation plan may finally give the Defense Department and military services some much-needed direction on how to better align itself for arms deals.
The Air Force was standing by to hear from the White House — through the Defense Department — on how to move forward, its undersecretary, Matt Donovan, told Defense News on the sidelines of Farnborough.
“We are waiting for implementation guidance from the White House,” he said Monday morning, just a couple hours before news hit of the approved plan. The Pentagon “and folks like [Under Secretary of Acquisition and Sustainment] Ellen Lord are getting ready to posture us for when that implementation guidance comes out. But as of right now, we’re still waiting.”
Valerie Insinna, in London, contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.