WASHINGTON – The Army is set to push allies to focus more on sustainment of equipment, the service’s top foreign relations officer says.
Maj. Gen. Stephen Farmen, commander at U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, told Defense News that he plans to “double down and put emphasis on sustainment” when talking with partners abroad, beginning the discussions early enough to potentially change how allies invest their dollars.
“As I’ve traveled the globe, what I’ve noticed is countries tend to under invest in sustainment. That creates a whole host of problems,” he told Defense News in an Oct. 11 interview. “What we don’t want is for Apaches or Black Hawks to turn into bird nests in five years or a paperweight, and the only way that we can fix that is by making sure we’re having good, candid conversations up front.”
“In other words, you may think you need 20 Black Hawks, but if you buy 18 then you can buy the sustainment for the next 10-15 years,” he continued. “So we’re trying to have these meaningful discussion early.”
The U.S. pushing allies to focus on upkeep of existing goods, rather that getting “enamored with chasing the shiny object,” as Farman put it, is nothing new. And the fact that American equipment comes with a long tail of sustainment and training is a traditional selling point Pentagon and State officials use when discussing potential weapon sales abroad.
But Farmen says his office now has a system in place where “we can see the kind of sustainment we’re providing to every country, we can see the sustainment profile for every country, which is going to allow us to then have the dialogue with them to show them ‘this is what you look like, this is what you bought into, this is the performance level, or this is where you need to contribute more.’”
Part of that pitch involves arguing that sustainment isn’t just about maintaining what you have, but opening up future opportunities. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has emphasized increasing lethality for existing systems. The argument is such that as those capabilities come online, the better maintained your equipment is, the better chance you have to load new technologies onto an older platform.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure you have a sustainment portfolio in place that goes out 10, 15, 20 years,” he said. “If we can get them investing in sustainment right, I think that is going to take it to the next level.”