The value of security cooperation, which I guide as Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), was affirmed by the prominence of “strengthening alliances and attracting new partners” within the 2017 National Defense Strategy. We have long known that our security and economic prosperity is inextricably linked to that of our allies and partners. We acknowledge that building the capacities of our partners’ militaries and defense institutions allows us to grow our alliances, pool resources, and share security responsibilities. This premise is the foundation for U.S. supremacy in security cooperation and what distinguishes our approach from that of our strategic competitors.

For the last three decades, the United States has pursued security cooperation — defense activities that foster strong relationships with foreign militaries and defense institutions to support U.S. and partner national security interests — from an unchallenged position of strength. This allowed us to proceed at our own pace and carefully control access to U.S. systems and opportunities for advanced technical cooperation.

While our approach was effective, we failed to appreciate the advancements of our strategic competitors. Their government-subsidized defense industry proved capable of quickly producing cheap, fourth-generation defense technology. This, coupled with a transactional, “no questions asked” marketing strategy devoid of accountability for the use of the weapons, has resulted in a formidable challenge to the U.S. as “the” global partner of choice. Our competitors have been effective in selling military equipment, and may have even been able to make inroads in areas where we traditionally dominated.

This essay is part of the Defense News 2020 Outlook project. Click here for more.

That said, the inevitable product of a transactional relationship is that you become a “purveyor” with “customers” whose allegiance is based only on your systems’ price point. However, if you pursue a strategy that includes not only the systems, but also the tools to absorb, apply, and sustain capabilities, you become a partner. Through partnership you will enhance interoperability, maximize burden sharing, and develop relationships capable of addressing current and future threats. This is our goal, and the United States must continue to evolve our approach to be more competitive.

To successfully strengthen our alliances and attract new partners, the security cooperation enterprise must abandon our traditional mindset and adopt innovative applications of authorities, policies, and processes. To do this, my agency is undertaking significant changes in the way we manage security cooperation. In the coming year, we will:

  • Increase affordability of U.S. systems to challenge strategic competitors who use questionable practices to lower costs below market price. Our efforts to extend competitive financing options through phased-procurements, improved payment schedules, and expanded opportunities to finance Foreign Military Sales (FMS) purchases will offer sufficient financial flexibility for partners to align FMS costs with budgetary and fiscal realities.
  • Incorporate industry best practices into FMS responses to international competitions to ensure U.S. government information is sufficient for partners to make informed decisions about cost, schedule, and performance as early as possible. This includes refining how we develop cost and schedule estimates and conducting required technology security and foreign policy reviews on potential industrial participation options and offsets earlier in the process.
  • Prioritize Institutional Capacity Building (ICB) programs to assist partners in modernizing their defense institutions to increase logistics, maintenance, resource and financial management, strategy formulation, and professional military education capacity. Our work will emphasize that strong institutions are not luxuries, rather fundamental elements of national security. We will demonstrate how institutional capacity not only improves operational capability, but also results in efficient and effective resource management and governance under the rule of law.
  • Modernize our Information Technology (IT) systems so that we are not forced to run a 21st Century, multi-billion dollar enterprise on Cold War IT architecture. DSCA will execute an agile acquisition program to modernize and enhance existing security cooperation IT systems and eliminate redundancies in data processing. This will provide authoritative, real-time data for security cooperation program planning, development, and execution.
  • Evolve security cooperation education and training through the Defense Security Cooperation University (DSCU). DSCU will expand its educational and academic partnerships to grow as the department’s premier academic institution for security cooperation. We will make our security cooperation practitioners, to include defense industry and foreign partners, more effective by training in the art and the science of security cooperation.

Make no mistake; the backbone of our efforts will remain the sale and provision of state-of-the-art U.S. military equipment that only the U.S. defense industry can provide. However, the totality of these efforts will be a modernized and singularly American approach that demonstrates not only a willingness but also an ability to respond to our partners’ unique and comprehensive requirements without sacrificing our core values.

By focusing on a strategic approach, we will overcome the transactional model of our strategic competitors and ensure the edge required for the U.S. to remain the global security partner of choice.

Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper is the director of the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

More In Outlook