Foreign Weapons Get a Closer Look as the Pentagon Races to Rearm

By Marcus Weisgerber

October 10, 2018

Deep inside the Washington Convention Center, underneath the bright-white-and-red logo of one of America’s biggest defense firms, sat a green-hulled armored vehicle with a curiously angular gun housing — and an even more curious pitch for customers who generally buy American.

Raytheon has high hopes for the Lynx, a new fighting vehicle designed by Rheinmetall in Germany — and perhaps one day, manufactured in the United States. And as the Pentagon begins to prioritize speed of acquisition over its traditional protectionism, this maker of missiles, rocket interceptors, and cyber defenses is placing bets on foreign partners with state-of-the-art products.

For us, this is sort of a change in speed and direction for Raytheon,” said Richard Harris, vice president of business development for the company’s Land Warfare Systems division.

The Massachusetts-based firm is not the only defense giant pivoting as the Pentagon signals an urgent desire for weapons that might face off against Russia and China. After nearly a generation spent focusing on counter-insurgency, many American defense firms are looking overseas for the latest and greatest in armored vehicles, anti-tank rockets, and other necessities of great-power conflict.  

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That shift was on full display this week at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington, the largest military arms show in the United States.

Start with the Lynx, whose appearance in this vast exhibit hall marks the consummation of a courtship begun several years ago.

We have worked with [Raytheon] from the beginning as we were conceiving of this vehicle. We have overlapping and complementary technology and capabilities,” said Stephen Hedger, who leads Rheinmetall’s U.S. business. “Obviously for the U.S. market, having a U.S. partner for a vehicle that you are going to Americanize and produce in America is critical.”

The two companies sealed their deal in June at a Parisian arms show, where they pledged to bring the Lynx to AUSA. If the Raytheon-Rheinmetall team manage to sell the roughly 40-ton vehicle to the U.S. Army, which is looking for a next-generation combat vehicle, they plan to manufacture it in a U.S. plant.

Rheinmetall brings an infusion of manufacturing technology and jobs into this country that we sorely need right now,” Harris said.

For now, the Lynx looks to face competition from General Dynamics and BAE Systems. No matter who wins, some Raytheon-made equipment will likely find its way onto the armored vehicle. But a Lynx sale would add new business to Raytheon’s portfolio.

And there are more examples. When the U.S. Navy sought arms for its littoral combat ship, Raytheon helped win the deal in May for the Naval Strike Missile, designed and made by Kongsberg in Norway. The U.S. company is also working with Sweden’s Saab to pitch a new version of the Carl Gustaf anti-tank rocket to the U.S. Army.

Elsewhere at AUSA, a light tank sat under a blue SAIC sign. The tank itself is made by Singapore-based ST Engineering, but much of its internal electronics would be installed by SAIC.

We thrive on partnerships, not just in our home country, but everywhere around the world in defense and non-defense,” Vincent Chong, president and CEO of ST Engineering, said in an interview. “I think that’s the way to capture value collectively, because in today’s world, you have to offer a total system solution and you have to know how to leverage on the strength partners bring to go to market.”

While in the past, foreign bidders were longshots against their American counterparts, the Pentagon has recently picked several overseas designs. Last month, Boeing captured a $9.2 billion deal to build new T-X pilot training jets for the U.S. Air Force. It designed the plane from scratch with Saab. Boeing also won a $2.4 billion deal to replace Air Force UH-1N helicopters with a bid that included the Italian-made AW139 commercial helicopter.

For Boeing, the T-X win (along with the recently won MQ-25 [Navy drone] and UH-1N [replacement]) helps shift the focus to Boeing Defense (BDS) … and highlights that it’s more than just tankers and legacy fighters,” Citi analyst Jon Raviv wrote in a Sept. 27 note to investors. “For Saab, it increases exposure to US defense growth and opens the door for future cooperation with US defense primes.”

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By Marcus Weisgerber // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials.

October 10, 2018