A new kind of export deal; ‘Never do that again’; The future of IED clearance; and more...

Welcome to the future of the defense industry, where alliance members team up to buy U.S. bomb-guidance kits in bulk.

A New Way to Sell NATO Weapons

I’ve yet to find a defense executive who thinks the U.S. government approves foreign arms sales expeditiously. It doesn’t matter the administration, the theme is always the same: faster, faster, faster!

The annual conversation goes like this: Pentagon officials pledge to speed up foreign arms sales. Congress pushes for reform. And the State Department says the current process works. We won’t debate those specific issues here today (But send me your thoughts on the subject and we could do so later.)

Let’s instead talk about something that could make a difference. It’s called the “Lead Nation Procurement Initiative.” State Department officials say it will allow trusted allies to pool their resources and buy arms in bulk, creating economies of scale and giving countries the opportunity to buy items they might not be able to afford on their own.

The two-year pilot project got off the ground this week, when State and the Pentagon formally notified Congress of a seven-nation, $230 million munition deal. The counties are splitting the cost of about 2,000 Joint Direct Attack Munition and 2,000 Paveway kits, which will turn their existing “dumb bombs” into GPS- and laser-guided precision weapons.

The NATO Support and Procurement Agency will buy the gear on behalf of Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands and Greece.

“The idea is that they procure [these] kits of JDAMs and Paveways and then there’s what’s called a blanket third-party transfer that is in place to allow them to transfer those munitions among themselves,” a State Department official said.

The arrangement provides access to American-made weapons for countries that cannot afford them on their own. Case in point: The Pentagon’s online foreign arms sales archive goes back to 2008. Guess how many times the Czech Republic shows up? Zero. Portugal: Zero.

If one of the seven countries needs weapons fast, it can get some from another member of the group. That means NATO could avoid what happened in 2011 when it went to war against Libya and Muammar Gaddafi and quickly depleted its bomb stockpiles.

“We want to try to be a more nimble system for our all partners, but also for our European partners,” the official said.

It’s worth noting that if the countries do transfer the kits around, they must notify the U.S. government quarterly. And if the transfer between countries is large enough, the U.S. Congress needs to approve it, just as they would for a direct arms sales from the U.S. to the individual country. Countries also need to report when they use the weapons.

Still, the deal should ultimately reduce red tape. Without this arrangement, State, the Pentagon and Congress would have had to approve seven different arms sales. That takes more time, more paperwork and ultimately more money for the countries. “In a time of budget austerity, how can NATO countries come together to spend smarter,” the State official said.

The initiative has been in the works for several years; the White House touted it at this year’s NATO summit in Warsaw. Now U.S. officials also hope it helps American companies win export contracts.

“We are open to considering other cases” beyond precision weapons, the official said. “The question is whether or not this would go beyond NATO.”

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‘Never Do That Again’

The Marine Corps has learned its lesson after overtaxing its massive Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Gen. Robert Neller, the corps’ commandant said this week.

Instead of cycling those helicopters in and out of combat with units that fly them, the Marines left the aircraft in theater, rotating only the crews. That means the helicopters did not go through scheduled overhauls. They instead “set up kind of an intermediate maintenance thing” with short-term tune-ups, Neller said. And that’s left the aircraft in shockingly bad shape. How poor? Their readiness rate is just 23 percent.

“Looking at that now, I would recommend to my successors to never do that again,” Neller said Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The money was there to fly them back and put them through the depot, and we should have done that. They would have been in a better state than they are now.”

The Army, by comparison, invested $1.2 million to restore each of its transport helicopters. The Marines are paying for that now — at a price tag of $360 million to restore the remaining 146 Super Stallions as they await the much-delayed replacement, the King Stallion. But that’s not expected before fall 2019.

The Future of IED Removal in Iraq

In April, we told you how the State Department and Janus Global Operations, a private contractor, were about to start the work to clear the thousands of IEDs and explosives planted by ISIS in Ramadi. Just how bad is the situation in the Iraqi city?

“In terms of sheer complexity, by far, it’s probably the one of the most complicated situations we’ve ever seen,” said Gerald Guilbert, deputy director of programs at the State Department’s office of weapons removal and abatement.

Here’s some perspective. Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 5, they cleared 98,749 square meters (that’s about the size of about 18 and a half American football fields), said Natalie Wazir, the senior program manager for Near Eastern affairs in State’s weapons removal office. In that area, Janus workers found three rockets, 52 grenades, 111 IEDs, 367 kilograms of unexploded ordnance scrap and 4,400 kilograms of homemade explosives.

“It’s bad. There are IEDs in a lot of buildings,” Guilbert said. “Part of the problem is a lot of the buildings where IEDs were emplaced, [are] now just rubble. It’s going to be an extremely challenging task to rebuild.”

That rubble needs to be cleared before rebuilding can commence.

Still, they’re making progress clearing key public infrastructure areas, including water treatment and sewage facilities. Now they’re looking to expand their efforts to other areas, such as the city’s university. And they’re looking beyond Ramadi.

“We’re looking to expand operations now into Fallujah, Nineveh and Karmah and eventually Hit and Haditha and in the longer-term, Mosul,” Wazir said.

In Karmah, teams need to clear a water treatment plant in the north of the city before people can return. But so far, the security situation there has prevented that from happening, Wazir said.

In Fallujah, the number of IEDs and explosives might not be as bad as imagined. “Everyone on the ground is saying that there isn’t as much contamination in Fallujah as there is in Ramadi,” she said.

Outgoing commanding general Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland noted on Wednesday that UXO in Ramadi will be around for a long time, just as World War I ordnance still poses a threat in Belgium. “The enemy — and particularly in Ramadi — left behind a huge number of what we call explosive remnants of war, ERW,” MacFarland told reporters. “That's going to take a great deal of effort to clear out. Now, that process is underway, but it's going to be a while, because the number of explosives left behind is incredibly dense.”

It's less of a problem in Fallujah and Mosul, he said. "Keep in mind, the thing about Ramadi was, the vast majority of the people, like 90 percent of the population, evacuated the city when Daesh rolled in. That's not true in Mosul. In Mosul, the vast majority of the people are still there. So, it's kind of hard to rig a house as a house-borne IED when people are in it. It was a lot easier to do it in Ramadi. In Fallujah, there weren't as many of those house-borne IEDs and obstacles built into the city. There are number of them, quite a few, but not as dense as Ramadi."

State just secured $86 million from 26 countries for demining efforts over the next three years.

Next Week: Big Missile Defense Conference

A who’s who in missile defense will gather next week in “The Rocket City” — that’s Huntsville, Alabama, of course — for the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium. Expect to hear lots about the the Navy’s SM-6 being modified to hit ships in addition to aircraft and missiles. Also expect to hear about the future of ground-based midcourse defense, the missile interceptors that guard the continental U.S. from ICBMs.

Join Us: Cocktails and Conversation

If you’re there next Monday, Aug. 15, I’ll buy you a drink. Seriously. Join me at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, for Defense One Cocktails and Conversations as we discuss the future of missile defense. We’ll explore the emergence of missile defense as a functioning technology sought by militaries across the world and discuss why battlefield successes and ever-increasing capabilities have made missile defense a growth area for the defense industry. Come have a drink on Aug. 15 with Missile Defense Agency’s Brig. Gen. William Cooley, program executive for programs and integration and other panelists. For the lineup, details, and registration, go here.