What’s the perennial top complaint from defense companies and America’s allies? The U.S. arms export approval process takes too long. We talked about this a year ago, so here’s an update. The good news: actual data that shows the process is moving faster. The bad news: no one ever seems satisfied.
This year, a new player joined the game: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper. After spending the past three years in Cairo as the U.S. defense attache to Egypt, he has taken a post of keen interest to many companies: Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Pentagon’s foreign weapon sales arm.
This week, Hooper dropped in to COMDEF — an annual acquisition and budget-focused conference attended by U.S. military officials and partner nations — to offer some encouraging words for defense firms and allies.
“We want to make things faster,” the DSCA chief said Wednesday. “We want to reduce the flash-to-bang time.”
Hooper also discussed a new approach to a common lament I’ve been hearing from State Department officials (who approve foreign arms sales) and Pentagon officials (who execute the sales and, in many cases, arrange for training). Far too often, they say, a country will ask for a weapon that won’t solve the problem they’re trying to fix.
“There are cases at the beginning of the identification of a requirement where we often spend a bit of time trying to define the requirement itself,” Hooper said. “Sometimes the request is for a particular system. The system might be the best system to meet the need, but there might be other alternatives.
“So we spend a bit of time discussing the actual requirement that our partner has,” he continued. “What is it that you want to do? I would say, I’ve seen situations where if we could focus on the actual requirement itself before we become fixated on a particular system, that that might help the process.”
In addition to that, Hooper also has some marching orders from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
“The secretary has brought DSCA, and myself as the director, more deeply involved at the inception of the policy formulation process, which allows us to analyze the process of forming the policy and determine what is in the realm of possible in order to provide capabilities to our partners,” Hooper said.
Mattis has also charged Hooper with working closer with the combatant commands, with industry and foreign partners.
“It really comes down to this, having responsive processes, that is those processes and systems that we have for foreign military sales, excess defense articles and others, looking for ways to make those systems and processes more efficient and effective, or as efficient and effective as they can be,” he said. “That’s not to say that the processes themselves don’t work, I think they do, but can always looks for efficiencies to help to compress the time to get capabilities to our partners faster.”
While we’re on the subject of foreign arms sales, remember when people worried that they might decline in a Trump administration?
“There had been concern and rumors that possibly with the new administration that we would shift away from these efforts in security cooperation,” Maj. Gen. Lawrence Martin, the assistant deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for International Affairs, said at the COMDEF conference.
“I think we can resoundingly say that nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “The demand for the service, the interaction, the partnership remain.”
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Where Lockheed's Going Next With Missile Defense
With North Korea testing ICBMs, there hasn’t been this much focus on missile defense since Patriot interceptors went up against Iraqi SCUDs in the 1991 Gulf War. This week, I chatted with Tim Cahill, vice president of air and missile defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, about THAAD, PAC-3 and other projects he’s working on.
Q. What’s been the feel at missile defense-focused events that you’ve attended lately?
A. The feel is that there is a lot of interest in air and missile defense across the planet. We are hearing from customers, across the board, common themes: How can you increase capacity? How can you get increased capabilities out to the warfighters quicker? What do we have in our toolkit to address emerging threats quickly without going into brand-new procurements for many, many years? I think there’s a sense of urgency. There’s a sense of focus. It’s a busy time.
Q. With the threat being fairly imminent, you can’t increase capacity overnight, so how do address that?
A. We’re looking hard at particularly the THAAD and the PAC-3 MSE [the Missile Segment Enhancement interceptor, which has a longer range and better mobility] lines, increasing capacity on both of those. There are some things that you can do relatively rapidly where you have whether they be bottlenecks in your production or … sometimes you can increase the number of shifts you put into a particular product. Other things are going to require some capital improvements. We’re laying all that out for our customers … and describing to them what the capability is and what we can do.
Q. How is Lockheed investing in the future of PAC-3?
A. PAC-3 in particular, we’re rapidly transitioning to full production on MSE. I think there’s going to be more of this second-generation PAC-3, the MSE version versus the CRIs [the prior version of the interceptor]. I think you’ll see us increase in capability in MSE production. That’s the premiere lower-tier interceptor on the planet and it shows. Every country who’s looking for that kind of capability in the world that is an ally of the United States is expressing interest and talking to us about that. There’s high demand for those systems.
Q. What about THAAD?
A. THAAD is principally internal work. We’re looking at ways to evolve THAAD to grow its capability, to grow its range, to increase the capability of its kill vehicle. That is pretty exclusively Lockheed Martin investments to do that. We’re going to continue to look at that and discuss with customers how we do that going forward. A lot of our internal investment is on what is the wave of the future? What kind of capability do you need to bring to bear? Particularly, it’s taking what we have in PAC-3 and starting to incorporate that fundamental accuracy, that maneuverability, that robustness into smaller profile interceptors.
Q. Should we expect to see new THAAD customers?
A. I think you will. The one announced customer on contract is the United Arab Emirates. We’re in the process of delivering interceptors and are well into that process. Yes, you’re going to see other customers. We are in active dialog with other customers on THAAD. There is no doubt in my mind that that UAE will not be the last foreign military sale of the THAAD system.
Q. What types of talks are you having with the Polish government now that they’re buying Patriot?
A. Our talks right now are exclusively around the MSE missile. The Poles are very interested and want to purchase the MSE missile. That will be part of their Patriot procurement. We are not in active negotiations with them relative to MEADS. We stand ready to support them at any such point if they decide they would like to re-engage in those dialogs. We still think that’s a very capable system that would serve the Poles well.
Lots of Defense Firms in Irma’s Path
There’s been lots of talk about the military moving equipment in Florida as Hurricane Irma threatens to paralyze the region in the coming days. There are plenty of defense firms in the path as well. Sikorsky and Pratt and Whitney each have factories in West Palm Beach. Further up the east coast, Northrop Grumman, Harris, Lockheed Martin and Embraer all have factories in central Florida. Boeing and others have work at Kennedy Space Center as well. And that’s just the big guys.
Here’s GAO’s Compass Call Ruling
We told you last week how the Government Accountability Office rejected protests by Boeing and Bombardier about the way the Air Force wants to buy new Compass Call intelligence planes. This week we have GAO’s full 22-page ruling. It’s here.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work — who has already joined the boards at Raytheon and Govini — is returning to the Center for a New American Security as a distinguished senior fellow for defense and national security. Remember, Work was the CEO of CNAS after he was Navy undersecretary and before became the deputy defense secretary.
Also heading to CNAS is Susanna Blume, who was Work’s deputy chief of staff for programs and plans. She’s a fellow in the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program where she’ll cover “the defense budget and key programs, defense posture, force management, and strategy and strategic planning.”