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Defense News Aug. 30, 2016
Ambassador Tina Kaidanow and Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey
WASHINGTON — The US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system - a mechanism by which the US government transfers defense articles and services to partner nations - is a central element in our foreign policy toolkit. In addition to the superior quality of U.S. defense articles and services, what sets this system apart is our "Total Package Approach." No other country offers partner nations the same comprehensive up-front planning and foresight. FMS involves anticipating not only the partner's requirement for the weapons system itself, but also the associated initial and follow-on support and services necessary to deploy and sustain the system. This Total Package Approach, when paired with other key enablers such as assistance with doctrine and logistics, generates long-term capabilities for our partners that they may employ and sustain independently.
Recently, some have claimed that FMS is a broken system. We respectfully disagree. The FMS system, while burdened by the recent growth of US arms sales, is not broken. There is room for improvement, however, and the departments of State and Defense, along with other interagency stakeholders, are implementing a number of initiatives to make the system more responsive.
The FMS system is intentionally deliberative, reflecting the critical nature of these decisions. When Congress established the FMS program, it understood that arms sales needed to be carefully considered and controlled, consistent with US national security and foreign policy. As designed, the administration must consider issues involving technology transfer and the protection of sensitive information associated with each case, with Congress playing a vital oversight role. All major arms transfers require congressional notification and involve an extensive consultation process to address any potential concerns. This process, which may sometimes appear slow, is essential to ensuring that sales are consistent with US foreign and national security interests and policy.
Of the thousands of cases the Defense Security Cooperation Agency processes every year, few require more extensive review. There is no "one size fits all" approach to FMS, and each request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The appearance that a particular sale is being "held up" is not a reflection of a flawed system; rather, it is the result of the deliberate discussion of complex technology or foreign policy issues.
At the same time, the departments of State and Defense are engaging key stakeholders across the interagency, as well as foreign partners, industry officials and Congress, to improve the FMS process. These efforts include working with our foreign partners and industry to better (and earlier) define requirements and align priorities; ensuring closer coordination with the procurement community to improve acquisition timelines; identifying ways to update, enhance and restructure our workforce training on refinements to the FMS process; and working to ensure the workforce meets current FMS requirements but also manages future needs effectively.
In addition to refinements to the existing processes, our departments are establishing new approaches. These include the expansion of the Special Defense Acquisition Fund, which enables us to buy ahead of need and deliver items to partners faster than the standard acquisition process. Additionally, the Lead Nation Procurement Initiative, a pilot program for NATO countries designed to support sales, allows for subsequent retransfer of items to other NATO partners, offering greater flexibility and cost savings while maintaining accountability.
These initiatives represent a robust effort across the interagency to enable the United States to remain the provider of choice for our foreign partners. As a result, our foreign partners understand and have confidence in the FMS system. They see the benefit of being able to "buy into" the US defense infrastructure and receive DoD-provided training support. Our partners have come to rely upon this system in the implementation of their national defense strategies, reflecting our shared international and defense interests.
The administration is committed to ensuring that FMS continues to advance and protect American national security interests, while helping our partners respond to the dynamic threats we collectively face today and in the future.
Ambassador Tina Kaidanow serves as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the bureau of political-military affairs. Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey is the director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
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