WASHINGTON — Following pressure from lawmakers and industry, a special Pentagon team today released a slate of recommendations that seek to speed up arms transfers to allies and partners through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process, as demand for American weapons surges abroad.
The dozens of reforms, compiled by a special DoD “Tiger Team” in a memo signed off by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, focus on six key “pressure points” in the FMS process, such as establishing contract award standards and metrics to monitor the pace of arms deliveries, the Pentagon said in a press release.
“We’ve heard fairly regularly from partners and allies that FMS can be a pain point for them,” Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker, who co-led the Tiger Team, said in a briefing with reporters this morning.
“We know that there are long-standing challenges at all stages of the FMS system and that that poses in some cases a risk for our ability to deliver capability to allies and partners in a manner and on a timeline that meets intended outcomes,” she added about the decision by Austin to create the team last year.
Baker noted that the 2022 National Defense Strategy is “a call to action for the defense enterprise to incorporate our allies and partners across the board and at every stage of defense planning, and obviously FMS has a big role to play in that process.” Notably, Republican members of Congress have been particularly frustrated at the slow rate of arms transfers to Taiwan as the island nation seeks to fend off any potential incursion by China.
Additionally, Baker said that many members of the Tiger Team are involved in ongoing arms transfers to Ukraine, and though the reform process “was not about any one particular country,” the recommendations were “very much informed by the real-world experience that a lot of our folks have had in moving security assistance to Ukraine over the course of the past year.”
Among other measures, the team is seeking to “develop a comprehensive strategy to expand and incentivize defense industrial base investments in production capacity,” Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Radha Plumb, the team’s other co-leader, said during the briefing.
That strategy, Plumb said, will address critical constraints like growing surge capacity for certain systems in high demand but low supply, and leverage multi-year procurement and other special authorities provided by Congress. The team is further exploring ways to facilitate non-programs of record that may meet the national security needs of allies and partners.
“Today’s announcement from the Department of Defense Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Tiger Team is an important step in the modernization of the foreign military sales system. Now the work of immediate implementation begins — and industry is ready to get started today,” Eric Fanning, head of the Aerospace Industries Association that has lobbied for FMS reforms, told Breaking Defense in a statement.
“We will work with the Department of Defense, as well as all defense trade stakeholders in the federal government, Congress, and partners and allies, to create actionable results now, as well as to continue the dialogue about how to speed up the process. Time is of the essence — especially as global threats continue to evolve,” he added.
The new strategy also aims to better understand the requirements for foreign customers by properly training security cooperation personnel.
According to Baker, the team is recommending the establishment of a “defense security cooperation service” that is “akin to the defense attaché service but focused on security operation officers” to ensure personnel are equipped to engage with allies and partners around the globe. Baker clarified that these positions for security cooperation already exist, meaning that this step wouldn’t create another layer of bureaucracy, but would more simply “institutionalize a little bit more of the training and professional development aspects of the job.”
This is by no means the first attempt to overhaul the FMS process. Baker stated the Tiger Team found that FMS reform efforts have taken place “roughly every 18 months for the last 20 years,” and included recommendations that were often still relevant but not enacted.
“That was, I think, a really key takeaway for us in thinking about how we move forward with implementation of the Tiger Team recommendations to make sure that we don’t become the next in a long line of studies that unfortunately didn’t deliver all the results the department had hoped for,” Baker said during the briefing.
But the Pentagon isn’t the only voice when it comes to reforming FMS. The State Department manages the approval process for FMS in coordination with DoD’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, with the former releasing its own roadmap for FMS reforms last month.
“We’re also planning to continue to partner with our Department of State colleagues, recognizing that we own a piece of the FMS system but ultimately we work together with the State Department to execute the entirety of it. And I think we are well-aligned that we all want to deliver a faster and more efficient FMS system,” Baker said.
The Tiger Team’s recommendations “will speed the review process for technology transfer,” Jonathan Lord, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, observed on Twitter. “DoD has a part to play here, but will need significant cooperation from [the State Department] and interagency partners to make progress on this.”