WASHINGTON — Complaints about the speed of the foreign military sales process from allies, industry and within the Pentagon are nothing new.
But those hoping for reform see potential in 2018, thanks to a group of leaders with a personal focus on building up allied capabilities and an administration that sees weapon sales as a way to grow American jobs.
It starts with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who early on declared building up partner capabilities as one of his key objectives. That directive has been accompanied by a “steady drumbeat” on the issue, according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who told reporters on Dec. 21 that he would be working on the issue directly.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, said he has been meeting with Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency head and Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, to find ways to speed up the FMS process from the level of the Office of the Secretary of Defense — or as Shanahan put it, “making sure we’re not standing on the air hose waiting for a signature.”
He also identified Japan, South Korea and the Middle East as three areas of focus for speeding the process up — perhaps unsurprising, as U.S. companies brought in roughly $22 billion in sale from Central Asia/the near East and $7.96 billion to the Indo-Pacific in 2017.
FMS reform is a pet issue for Lord, who often complained about the speed of the process when she was a top executive with Textron. While unable to drive changes in previous years, Lord has made it clear she sees a few ways to tweak the process from the inside that could help get things moving.
In an attempt to get time down on procurements, Lord has launched six Procurement Action Lead Time pilot programs, with the goal of being able to get a customer on contract within 210 days of a request for proposal. While those are largely focused on domestic projects, it does include trying to speed along Japan’s procurement of the Global Hawk unmanned system.
During a Dec. 7 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Lord said her team was working on “pre-positioning production contracts to include options for yet-to-be-developed FMS requirements. In other words, in the initial contracts, we have the language, so we can almost fill in the blank for FMS sales. Again, pre-thinking this is going to reduce the timeline and allow us to be very, very responsive to international customers.”
Doing that kind of work would require greater ties with industry — something DSCA’s Hooper told an audience hosted by the Washington chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army he intends to work on going forward.
Asked by Defense News about Hooper’s comments, spokesman Tom Crosson said Hooper’s engagements with industry have been “limited in scope,” something the DSCA head hopes to expand in 2018.
“The Agency is now coordinating with industry partners to conduct more in-depth briefings to allow the director to better understand the partner’s short-term objectives, long range strategies and how these are related to DSCA’s role in building partner capacity,” Crosson wrote in an email.
Hooper also hopes to indirectly speed up the process through improved training of the workforce. In October, Hooper first broached the idea of a Security Cooperation University, modeled on the Defense Acquisition University. Weeks later, Lord threw water on the idea of a stand-alone facility, but showed support for the overall concept.
Asked about the status of that plan, Crosson said DSCA is running a “number of initiatives aimed at improving the training provided across the security cooperation community,” including setting up some form of university structure.
“The university will not be a new brick and mortar institution, rather it will leverage existing curriculum and schoolhouse offerings,” including two current locations at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, Crosson write. It would also tie together “existing relationships with Defense Acquisition University, the Service professional military education institutions, and other civilian colleges and universities to maximize educational efficiencies.”
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.