Defense Trade and Arms Transfers

Today, the mission set of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) is wide-ranging, encompassing defense trade and arms transfers, international military training, institutional capacity building, humanitarian assistance, and Security Cooperation workforce development.  However, when looking back at DSCA’s origins, it is clear that the defense trade and arms transfers portfolio was the major reason behind its inception.

The need for a part of the U.S. government to handle security assistance matters dates back to 1947.  Post-World War II, the U.S. government had a surplus of military equipment.  At the time, U.S. defense and national security leaders advocated for this equipment to be given away to ensure the security of allies and partners vulnerable to Soviet expansion.  However, as needs changed over the ensuing years, it became apparent that to meet U.S. security objectives, the U.S. government should establish an official security assistance program.

The Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949 provided the legal basis for key military assistance programs such as the Military Assistance Program (MAP) and the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.  In 1961, the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) authorized the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program.

The FAA, also made apparent that a greater focus on military assistance was necessary.  In order to meet this goal, the Department of Defense created a small office in the Pentagon in the early 1960s, which would evolve into the Defense Security Assistance Agency (DSAA) in 1971, and eventually into DSCA in 1998.  

Over the years, the defense trade and arms transfers mission set has transformed and expanded as a foreign policy tool of first resort, with programs authorized by the Department of State, executed by the Department of Defense, and informed by Congressional legislation and oversight.  The Arms Export Control Act of 1976 provides current legal authority and general rules for conducting FMS, commercial sales of defense articles, defense services, and training.  FMS sales to U.S. Ally and partner nations averaged about $2 billion per year throughout the 1960s.  In Fiscal Year 2020, the United States sold $50.78 billion in defense articles and services, with a three-year rolling average of $54 billion. 

New programs have also emerged.  While FMS is familiar to most who follow the Security Cooperation Enterprise, MAP may not be.  MAP was created to assist allies with direct grants and aid.  MAP formally merged with the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program in 1990, creating the program that we know today.  The Special Defense Acquisition Fund (SDAF) program was also added to the agency’s expanding portfolio in 1982 and later recapitalized in 2012. 

While defense trade and arms transfers and related programs have grown larger and more complex since the aftermath of World War II, the overall rationale remains the same: the development and execution of effective and enduring Security Cooperation programs and partnerships that support U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives. 

Click here to read more about the defense trade and arms transfers mission set.

DSCA serves as the lead for Department of Defense’s participation at international defense trade shows.  Trade shows offer a unique environment for the U.S. Government to team up with U.S. defense industry to showcase the prominence of U.S. platforms to a global audience.  Watch this video to learn more and visit our tradeshow page for more information.

For this month’s Faces of Security Cooperation feature we are highlighting William Henry Draper, Jr. Draper served as the first Under Secretary of the Army and first U.S. Ambassador to NATO. He was also appointed the Chairman of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s committee to study the 1949 Mutual Defense Assistance Act. The findings by the committee laid the foundation for the Foreign Assistance Act and revisions to Military Assistance Program procedures, which serve as the basis for the U.S. Security Assistance and Security Cooperation programs we know today. Click here for more.