WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's top weapons export official believes the US should do more to encourage allies to buy American equipment as a group, under the aegis of a pilot program launched to help NATO quickly acquire weapons.

While noting he doesn't have direct say in any decision to expand the use of what is known as "lead nation procurement," Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said he would like to see the formula for buying American weapons expanded.

"I would like to expand it beyond — I don't have a say obviously — but I could see it expanding beyond NATO once we prove it out with NATO," Rixey said Sept. 7 at the annual Common Defense conference. "So this is something we are very much interested in."

There have been two NATO programs under the aegis of lead nation procurement. The first was fairly small — coordination for a Baltic defense college with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. While acknowledging that’s not the big-ticket dollar item most people keep eyes out for, Rixey said it was an important test case for how multiple nations could go in on procurement together.

"We’re learning what are the mechanics besides just the bilateral signing of the case and the relationships associated with the countries they are working with," Rixey said.

The second case was larger — a clutch of precision-guided munitions for the NATO Support and Procurement Agency, which the agency would then distribute to Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Spain. If completed, that sale could be worth $231 million, according to an August notification to Congress.

"I think we’re really going to cut our teeth on that one and we’re moving forward," Rixey said of the weapons sale.

The question that Rixey and his counterparts at the US Department of State need to wrap their heads around is how big the program can go. A State Department official, speaking on background, told Defense News it was simply "too soon to tell" if the lead nation pilot program could work

"At this point, what we’d like to see is NATO countries submitting more proposals. We can’t comment yet on how we might use lead procurement beyond NATO until we fully evaluate how the pilot program has performed," the official said.

But Rixey seems to have some ideas of what a future setup could look like. He held up an example of how a group of countries could buy into items for a major platform, such as the P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft, as a group.

"Imagine what you could do with lead nation procurement if you could get something like the P-8 — maybe not the P-8 itself, but certainly all the support, the Sonobuoys, the spares, everything associated with it that you could buy — in batch quantities and not have to worry about third party transfer restrictions," Rixey offered.

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.

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