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Trusting Allies Pays Off

This article, written by Norway’s National Armaments Director, Morten Tiller, was published in the magazine Defense News 18th December. The message in this article is that the U.S. should loosen restrictions on defense trade.

Close trans-Atlantic cooperation is intrinsic to NATO's collective defense concept, and over the years, the allies have consistently pursued interoperability and compatibility among their armed forces. For decades, NATO also has advocated trans-Atlantic industrial cooperation to maximize our collective investments and fully exploit our respective defense industries.

However, despite the many efforts aimed at improving industrial cooperation between North American and European industry, success has been somewhat limited.

Whereas Norway buys about two-thirds of its military materiel abroad, many NATO countries, such as the U.S., tend to procure nearly all of their defense equipment at home. This can be attributed to national security considerations, but many U.S. procurements seem devoid of essential security interests and leave the impression that Buy American and Berry Amendment restrictions are invoked to protect domestic industry.

These arguments may be solid from a purely U.S. viewpoint, but I believe there are equally compel-ling reasons why it would benefit the U.S. to favor more cooperative approaches to procurements. The development, production and support of sophisticated defense equipment is highly expensive, and defense resources are becoming scarce. It makes sense to pursue best-value solutions, and those can be best achieved through open and fair competition.

Currently, various market restrictions such as "no foreign content" or requirements to produce on U.S. soil prevent foreign suppliers from bidding on U.S. Defense Department contracts. Relaxing these restrictive practices could help optimize materiel investments and promote reciprocal defense trade.

As it makes sense for NATO to pool scarce research-and-development resources to develop military capability at an affordable price, it makes sense for governments to opt for existing solutions from their allies when expedient.

Somewhat in line with this approach, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) recently announced a streamlining initiative to ensure that foreign military sales keep up with the changing security environment.

According to DSCA Director Vice Adm. William Landay, the key to keeping up with a (rapidly) changing environment and delivering equipment when needed to Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers may be "as simple as getting customers to request technologies that already have been developed, rather than still in the pipeline."

But it isn't always easy to get foreign customers to request existing technologies, especially the U.S. Defense Department, if it entails placing contracts for key weapon systems abroad. But by opting for proven solutions or development projects nearing completion, costly and time-consuming domestic development projects may be avoided. This approach also may help ensure that U.S. service members have access to the best equipment on the international market.

Lengthy development processes and domestic procurement preferences have been circumvented when urgent operational requirements arose. One noteworthy example is the U.S. Army's procurement of the Norwegian-made Remote Weapon Stations (RWS) for U.S. combat vehicles. In this case, unacceptable casualty rates from sniper activity triggered an urgent requirement for a system that could provide both protection and surveillance while responding to enemy fire. This resulted in a fast-tracked international competition, and a contract was subsequently awarded to a Norwegian company, Kongsberg Protech Systems.

The RWS, key to the Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station (CROWS) and Stryker programs, has repeatedly been proved in Iraq and Afghanistan. The RWS technology strengthened U.S. battlefield force protection and interoperability, and reduced collateral damage. The technology has been adapted to additional platforms and new variants are being developed.

This contract also generated substantial U.S. industrial activity and employment, since Protech established a repair and overhaul facility in Pennsylvania.

In addition to the operational benefits, the elimination of long lead times and duplication of research-and-development efforts illustrate why bilateral interdependence in defense procurement pays off for the armed forces - not to mention industrial and employment benefits.

In uncertain times, we need to cooperate. Our combined defense investments need to be utilized as efficiently as possible to strengthen operational effectiveness and increase security. Both in interoperability and resource management perspectives, we all stand to benefit from more reciprocal defense trade. It pays off to import defense equipment because it ensures access to the best technology available at competitive prices. It can benefit the soldiers while helping solve budgetary challenges.

Like other allied countries, Norway has benefited from American research and development, and over the years, we have procured substantial amounts of defense equipment from U.S. suppliers. For a host of reasons, the U.S. ought to recognize that Norway, like many European countries, has developed technologies, capabilities and products that could complement or enhance U.S. technology.

Morten Tiller, Norway's national armaments director.

 

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