By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (June 13, 2023) -- The process by which the United States sells military hardware and services to foreign nations has frequently been cited as a "pain point" by American partners and allies. But recommendations from a recently concluded tiger team aim to fix that and other issues with the foreign military sales process.
Last year, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III tasked a tiger team to look into how to improve the FMS process, said Sasha Baker, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. Now that team has concluded its work and has delivered a variety of recommendations, which Baker said fall into six broad categories.
Chief among those is improving the department's understanding of ally and partner requirements.
"In other words," Baker said, "if we put good information into the system at the front, we know it's more likely to result in a positive outcome on the back end."
Recommendations that fall into this category include changing the way DOD organizes, trains and equips for security cooperation. Here, Baker said, the department plans, for instance, to establish a Defense Security Cooperation Service which is on par with the Defense Attache Service.
"One of the recommendations of the tiger team that the secretary has approved is that we are going to establish a defense security cooperation service," said Baker. "[It's] focused on security cooperation officers to make sure that they get the training and the professional development that they need to make good choices and decisions."
Enabling more efficient reviews for the release of technology is another broad area where the tiger team found opportunities for improvement, Baker said.
"There are oftentimes technology disclosure concerns that can hold up the process if we're not careful," she said.
That effort involves, in part, reviewing and updating relevant department policies to create more effective, repeatable systems and processes for technology foreign disclosure and communications security release decisions.
The department also needs to focus on providing allies and partners with "relevant priority capabilities," Baker said.
This involves, among other things, developing a methodology to facilitate non-programs of record; developing enterprise standards and timelines for non-programs of record FMS cases; and the development of prioritization schedules for the delivery of high demand/low supply munitions for the U.S. and partner nations.
Baker also said that what the tiger team recommends, and what is implemented, must be sustained -- and going forward, the FMS program must undergo continuous process improvement to keep it relevant and efficient.
"We very much envision this process not as having been a sprint that then goes away, but that there will actually be a tail to this in terms of continuous process improvement and looking to ensure that the recommendations that we're making are implemented over time," she said.
Part of that continuous process improvement involves establishment of an FMS "continuous process improvement board," which Baker said would act as an enduring governance structure within the department. The department will also establish clearer business processes and metrics for each stage of the FMS process.
"We're committing ... to a continuous process improvement initiative," Baker said. "It will involve using modern technology to collect data to establish metrics. We are, I think, collectively committed to embracing a more data-driven approach to FMS, and we're establishing a governance board that [Radha Plum, who has a doctorate in economics], and I will chair that regularly checks in on our priority cases to ensure that we're making progress and that looks at the recommendations from the tiger team to ensure that we're making progress there as well."
Two additional areas tiger team recommendations focused on include accelerating acquisition, contracting support and expanding defense industrial base capacity.
"To advance FMS acquisition prioritization and award timelines for allies and partners, the department's going to do a couple of things," said Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Radha Plumb. "The first is ... we need to establish contract award standards and metrics. That allows us to internally have accountability and track progress on the timelines and delivery, and then work with our partners in industry to meet those standards with clear data-driven acquisition processes."
Plumb also said the department would develop process maps to monitor the FMS prioritization and award process, including for non-program of records cases.
Finally, she said, the department is looking at how it can better enable and support exportability.
"There's a part of this that is production and the part that we would do regardless of where it's going and the part that we need to look at in terms of how we transfer to allies and partners," she said. "We want to compress both sets of timelines."
A big part of expanding defense industrial base capacity, Plumb said, involves incorporating ally and partner requirements into the demand signal for the industrial base, so that both can be considered together rather than separately.
"We're also working to develop a comprehensive strategy to expand and incentivize defense industrial base investments in production capacity," she said. "That includes building surge capability for high-demand/low-supply platforms, systems and munitions and services. To do that we're making use of multi-year contracts and a range of special authorities that Congress has given us that allow us to accelerate acquisition pathways."
Baker added that improvement of the FMS process is not just a DOD effort, because the department is not alone in implementing FMS. The State Department is also heavily involved in foreign military sales.
"We are also planning to continue to partner with our Department of State colleagues, recognizing that we own a piece of the FMS system, but ultimately we work together with the State Department to execute the entirety of it," she said. "And I think we are well aligned in that we all want to deliver a faster and more efficient FMS system."