The Trump Administration is hoping to boost the export prospects for American weapons systems to allied countries by modifying policies and streamlining the bureaucratic process. The Trump Administration announced a revised conventional arms transfer policy in April, but that is just the first step. There are more policy changes coming down the line.
“The new policy reflects the priorities of the president’s National Security Strategy,” Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, said on Aug. 8 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Which are, namely, to preserve peace through strength by reforming regulations to facilitate the exports of U.S. military equipment; to strengthen partners and allies; to facilitate U.S. economic security and innovation.”
Under the new policy, the United States hopes to make its export bureaucracy more proactive and cut red tape in the process.
“These steps are among the first in what we hope will be a series of efforts to streamline the arms transfer process,” Kaidanow said.
“I can assure you that my colleagues and I at the State Department, but also again more broadly in the USG, will continue exploring ways to cut red tape and give U.S. industry every advantage in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, while continuing to ensure the responsible export of arms.”
The United States is making these policy changes with great power competition with China and Russia in mind.
“We’re trying to improve our ability to compete with our adversaries by providing our partners with viable alternatives to foreign products in order to maintain influence in key regions throughout the world,” Laura Cressey, Deputy Director for Regional Security and Arms Transfers at U.S. Department of State, said.
“We’re going to be working with our partners and allies to identify critical capability requirements that they have and then trying to expedite transfers to support these essential foreign policy and national security objectives.”
However, writing the policy guidance is the easy part. Implementing the policy will be far more challenging.
“The release of the new policy was only the first step in a series of what we believe will be very practical results-focused initiatives to transform the way that the U.S. government works to support and grow our defense industrial base,” Kaidanow said.
“Through that memorandum, the president also directed the secretary of state, in coordination with the secretaries of defense, commerce, and energy, to submit an implementation plan within 60 days.”
As part of the effort, the United States is looking at reforming export hurdles such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which has been a vexing problem for the defense industry for decades.
“We’ll look at streamlining the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, and also continuing to revise the U.S. Munitions List and the Commerce Control List,” Cressey said.
Additionally, the State Department and Defense Department will try to speed up the bureaucratic processes involved in weapons exports.
“We will also be looking at the day-to-day processes to ensure that we are as efficient, as streamlined, and as effective as possible,” Cressey said.
“So some of the things that we’re looking at, and that folks in industry and associations have asked us to look at, is: establishing milestones and timelines for the foreign military sales process; improving and speeding up our contracting process – processes within the Defense Department; trying to increase the competitiveness of U.S. defense items and systems by building in exportability to the design and development; and also by expanding support for what we call non-program-of-record systems. We’re looking into potential financing options that could make our systems more attainable for our foreign partners. And we’re also examining existing polices to ensure that they don’t unnecessarily detract from our ability to compete in international – in the international marketplace.”
Without the changes, the United States is increasingly in danger of losing its market share as China, in particular, increasing develops and produces evermore-capable weapons for the export market. One example is the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) market, which the United States dominates, but which is also threatened by Chinese competition and by Washington’s tight export regulations.
“By removing some of the previous administration’s artificial barriers to the transfer of arms to critical partners, the UAS export policy being one example, this administration is both strengthening our hand in the ongoing strategic competition while also stimulating economic growth at home, as well as job creation,” Alex Gray, Special Assistant to the President for the Defense Industrial Base, said.
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“It should be noted that the U.S. aerospace and defense industries contribute almost $1 trillion annually to the U.S. economy and they support about 2.5 million American jobs. Just as one point, the international – UAS export market alone is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion a year within the next decade. Those are the stakes we’re competing for.”
Those nations that are unable to purchase American weapons could find that China or Russia are more than willing to supply them with comparable systems.
“We are witnessing China – as an example, not alone – but China filling voids the U.S. left with a denial to a friend or ally,” Keith Webster, president of the Defense and Aerospace Export Council at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said.
“The consequence of a denial filled by China or others is as follows: The U.S. loses market share that is not easily recaptured, and in some cases will never be recaptured. The U.S. loses control of the capability. The U.S. loses the opportunity to train, influence, and maintain a military relationship with foreign forces, who now are introducing into their inventory a Chinese – Korean, Israeli, et cetera – capability.”
There are some immediate examples that Webster said he could point to. “We never answered India’s request for ballistic missile defense capability.”
“That ask of the U.S. went unanswered for a number of years. And now, India has been forced to consider and has – may potentially go buy, potentially, the Russian S-400 system. Similar to what Turkey’s buying—or said they were going to buy. Now we are rushing to put together a proposal for BMD for India to counter that situation.”
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @Davemajumdar.