The United States and many of its allies face the same problem: Costs are growing faster than budgets.
While that ought to drive nations to greater cooperation, that hasn't always been the case.
Too often, nations reinvent existing wheels to support domestic industries. While that is sometimes justified for select capabilities deemed essential for sovereignty reasons, most of the time it leads either to a wasteful duplication of effort or a lack of competition that means paying more and getting less.
But there are welcome signs that mentality is changing.
Nations that went to war together in Iraq and Afghanistan — whether the United States or its allies — acquired vast numbers of foreign systems to meet battlefield needs, be it armor, new vehicles, electronic warfare, unmanned aircraft, command-and-control gear or weapons.
Even more welcome, a new generation of leaders is encouraging this tilt toward cooperation.
Al Shaffer, the deputy assistant defense secretary for research and engineering — who's heading to Paris to oversee NATO's Collaboration Support Office — has it right: "If a nation is good enough to come to war with us, then they ought to be good enough to share technology with."
Shaffer, and his Pentagon bosses — Ash Carter and Bob Work — know neither the United States nor defense contractors have a monopoly on good ideas. Indeed, Carter's outreach to Silicon Valley and Work's offset strategy are means to harness technology to help the Pentagon maintain its military lead in an increasingly competitive tech world.
In this space, America's allies have proven adept at leaner ways to deliver key capabilities. That's because they face budget challenges, forcing them to set thoughtful priorities and avoid unnecessary and costly duplication.
For example, Norway has two ship-tracking nano-satellites in service. The first, AISSat-1, was launched in 2010. It was designed, developed, built, launched and operated for three years — all for $4.7 million, including ground stations and control software. The second spacecraft followed in 2014 and cost $2.7 million. That's the cost of a modern tank or armored vehicle, and a fraction the price of any US space system.
Shaffer has said Israel's proven Iron Dome defense system could help protect US troops from guided mortars and rockets. Other tested systems that could immediately address pressing US needs include Britain's Brimstone and Norway's Naval Strike missiles.
France, one of Europe's leading arms producers, is also changing its tune. Paris has long preferred French or European solutions and regarded American systems as a last resort. But France is increasingly adopting US systems to address its needs, such as the Reaper UAV and more recently, pickup trucks from American car giant Ford that were selected over competing French vehicles.
The point is: The money saved by not duplicating efforts means more resources that can be invested in systems that aren't already on the market, but important to war-fighting needs.
And this is as much about new approaches as the systems themselves. While Norway's nano-satellites may be of little direct use to a space superpower like the United States, its agile approach would prove game-changing. Ditto on other systems.
Openness to new technologies and cooperation is only part of the battle. Equally key in this transformation are export reforms that not only keep pace with, but facilitates the increasingly rapid flow of technology among like-minded allies and their industries.