ABU DHABI — To compete with rival arms-producing nations, the Pentagon agency charged with shepherding US arms sales to foreign nations is overhauling its bureaucracy after years of scrambling to keep pace with demand, its chief said on Monday.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency's (DSCA's) director, Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey, said buyers have many options outside the US from among the vendors arrayed at the massive Mideast defense show IDEX show, where he spoke to a defense industry crowd. He acknowledged TK frustrated [33:20]

"It's pretty competitive out there, so if you [have] a bureaucracy on something that can simply be [sold] by someone else, that's a problem," Rixey said. "So how can we streamline what we do, or get a sense from the technology that's out there where we can relieve ourselves of the restrictions we have. It's a whole new ball game."

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The most recent public triumph of an American competitor in the region was Egypt's decision to buy France's Rafale and multimission frigate in an arms package worth €5.2 billion (US $5.9 billion). Rixey declined to comment, but later acknowledged competition, "worldwide."

"Just walk around this facility here," he said. "You can see it when you walk the floor here."

The demand from Arabian Gulf countries in recent months has become all the more urgent in response to the Islamic State threat, which has buoyed requests for small arms, ammunition, ordnance, counter-mortar radars and humvees.

"Just imagine what you need for the counterterrorism fight, that's what we're seeing a lot of pressure on, and they need it immediately," Rixey said.

Historically, US foreign military sales held at roughly $12 billion per year between 2001 and 2005, when they began a climb to $30 billion per year today. DSCA is working through a backlog of 12,000 open requests as an average of 140 new requests enter the system each month, Rixey said.

"There are people running around with their hair on fire," in the organization, Rixey said.

US officials don't fully understand what is fueling the demand and they are not taking it for granted. Though there is a rough correlation between demand, OPEC oil prices and the value of the US dollar, a recent decline in OPEC prices, DSCA has yet to have an impact on DSCA, Rixey said.

"If the sales drops off, what happens to the workforce, what are we going to do," he said. "We have to look at where this is going to trend because we may have to get lean if it trends the other way."

DSCA has begun to forecast and study probable requests to devise speedier responses, and is looking at streamlining the organization to lower costs in the foreign military sales (FMS) program.

One highlight is a reorganization by region, with a strategic team to look at the priorities of the regional combatant commanders, the Defense Department and foreign partners. Combatant commanders can place foreign sales requests on a priority list for rapid action.

"One of the biggest criticisms they had was they didn't know what was going on in our organization, but now they do," Rixey said. "I can also articulate what I'm not doing because I'm off doing the things we clearly articulated are strategically important."

Despite a trend toward direct commercial sales over FMS, the relationship with the US that comes with FMS remains main selling point, as the US seeks to foster a network of relationships to support its own national security, Rixey said.

"The sales have a strategic value, but we can't lose sight of the fact that we are a tool of foreign policy, and there has to be a discussion about being deliberate in what it is we transfer," Rixey said.

Email: jgould@defensenews.com

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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