As U.S. defense spending begins to decline the Obama Administration needs to give greater attention to foreign military sales of U.S. weapons systems. Foreign military sales help the U.S. balance of payments and retains high paying, mostly union jobs. In addition, such sales reduce the price for the platforms that the U.S. military acquires, allows for modernization of existing systems and provides for greater interoperability with U.S. forces.
In the late 1980s, the U.S. production of the M1A1 Abrams tank was coming to an end. There was no money to develop an advanced version, the A2. It was foreign sales that sustained the program. First, the United States had entered into a long-term arrangement with Egypt for the co-production of M1s. Throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s Egypt repeatedly bought additional M1s. In addition, there was a sale of 315 M1s to Saudi Arabia. Without active production there was the real possibility that the key production personnel would be let go. Instead, the foreign sales provided sufficient additional funds to allow the Army to proceed with development of the M1A2.
Another example is the sale of Patriot missiles to several allies. The United Arab Emirates bought 10 Patriot Fire Units and 530 Patriot missiles. This sale allowed the fixed costs associated with the program to be spread over a large production run lowering the costs to all those acquiring the system including the U.S. Army. As a result, the U.S. saved the equivalent of a battery worth of Patriots.
There are a number of other U.S. weapons programs that today are sustained solely by foreign sales. These include the F-15 and F-16 fighters. Without additional sales to foreign countries, these two major platforms will go out of production in a few years.
The U.S. has a number of programs in advanced development that involve the participation of allied countries. The most significant of these is the F-35. The United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Australia and Turkey have formally joined the U.S. and contributed money and technologies toward the program. The U.S. also has been pursuing international partners for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program.
The Department of Defense (DoD) must focus on increasing U.S. foreign military sales of U.S. equipment. Senior DoD officials need act less like disinterested bureaucrats and more like salesmen and women for the American brand.
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